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Born: Wednesday 14 September 1921, Niterói, Brazil
Died: Friday 8 February 2002, Niterói, Brazil (aged 80)
Position: Inside Forward/Attacking Midfielder
Inside-right Zizinho was one of Pelé's heroes as a child. He was a versatile attacking player whose career spanned the era when inside forwards developed into modern midfielders and played for more than 20 years at club level. However like many of his team-mates, the later years of his career were overshadowed by the fact the he appeared in Brazil's defeat to Uruguay in the final match of the 1950 World Cup.
Born Thomaz Soares da Silva in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro on 14 September 1921, Zizinho began his football career with amateur team Byron, but initially struggled to earn a professional deal. He was rejected by América on the grounds the he appeared too frail and turned down Bangu when the club offered him a job as a labourer rather then a playing contract. Eventually, he was offered a trial with Flamengo in 1939 and it was there that his breakthrough occurred.
During that trial, Zizinho was asked to take the place of club legend Leônidas da Silva and scored three goals, including one where he ran from 40 yards out and beat three defenders on the way to goal. Unsurprisingly, he was offered a contract and made his debut in a match against Argentinian side Independiente on Christmas Eve 1939. Over the next two years, Flamengo were edged out by Fluminense at the top of the league but Zizinho quickly developed a reputation as one of the best all-round attacking players in Brazil.
Although he was slightly built, Zizinho possessed the combination of shooting and passing ability that made him the perfect inside forward. Also a good crosser of the ball, he was equally comfortable playing on the wing or in a deeper role more akin to a modern midfielder. Pelé, who grew up watching Zizinho play, considered him to be the complete player and the best he had ever seen. His performances for Flamengo led to a call up to the Brazilian national team for the first time in January 1942 for the South American Championship in Uruguay. He scored twice in the tournament, against Ecuador and Paraguay, but Brazil could only finish third.
Later in 1942 Zizinho won his first major honour at club level as Flamengo beat Botafogo to the state championship by a single point. That marked the first of three consecutive state titles, culminating in a dramatic 1-0 win over closest rivals Vasco da Gama on the final day of the 1944 season. Early in the new year Zizinho played in his second major tournament, the South American Championship of 1945. Although he scored twice in the 9-2 thrashing of Ecuador, an earlier 3-1 defeat at the hand of Argentina was ultimately the vital match of the tournament and Brazil finished second. Exactly the same was true a year later, with another defeat to Argentina leaving Brazil second again.
The second half of the 1940s was not so successful at club level, with Zizinho suffering a broken leg in 1946 although he played two matches after sustaining the injury before realising how serious it was. He never won another major honour with Flamengo, as the club could finish no higher than third in the league over the remainder of the decade, but he did finally win an international title when Brazil hosted the South American Championship in 1949. It was a mixed tournament for Zizinho, who scored four goals in his first three games but was then sent off in the win over Peru. He finished with five goals altogether, as Brazil took the title with a comprehensive 7-0 win over Paraguay in a play-off.
On the back of that triumph, Brazil were expected to win the World Cup on home soil in 1950. Zizinho missed the first two games but returned for the must-win final group game against Yugoslavia where with Brazil leading 1-0, he scored the clinching goal a minute from time to seal a place in the final group stage. Big wins over Sweden and Spain in that group put Brazil in the position of only needing a draw with Uruguay to be champions and Zizinho, who had scored one of the six goals against Spain, was so influential that he went on to be named player of the tournament.
Unfortunately, things went horribly wrong in the final game as Uruguay came from behind to win 2-1, a defeat which was seen as a national disaster. Although the experience of playing in that game led to Zizinho forming lifelong friendships with many of the Uruguayan players, the defeat still haunted him and his team-mates. He did not play for Brazil again for three years and claimed that for the rest of his life he had to leave his phone off the hook on the anniversary of the match as so many people tried to speak to him about it.
The World Cup defeat was only one of two major disappointments in 1950, as after 146 goals in 329 games for the club Flamengo sold Zizinho, against his wishes, to Rio State rivals Bangu. He would later state that it was hard for him to say which had been the toughest disappointment to accept. Remarkably, in his first start for Bangu they beat Flamengo 6-0. Although he was the league's leading scorer in 1952, Zizinho's seven years with Bangu were not successful as the club could finish no higher than third.
That period did bring a return to the national team however, for the 1953 South American Championship. Zizinho scored a vital goal in 3-2 win over Chile, but ultimately a play-off defeat to Paraguay left Brazil as runners-up. To the disappointment of many he was left out of the 1954 World Cup squad, having fallen into a disagreement with the Brazilian federation. Zizinho would appear in the South American Championship once more, in 1957, but defeat to Argentina in what proved to be his final international left Brazil second yet again. He would later turn down a chance to go to the 1958 World Cup because he did not want to deprive a younger player of a place in the squad. One of his great regrets was that he never got to play alongside Pelé for the national team.
Later in 1957, Zizinho left Bangu to join São Paulo where in his first season he helped the team to win the state championship. However, he was now approaching his late 30s and his career was in decline. Two years later he signed for Uberaba in the state of Minas Gerais before leaving Brazil to join Chilean club Audax Italiano. It was there that Zizinho retired from football in 1962, at the age of 40. In retirement he returned to Niterói and worked in local government, living a quiet life away from the public eye. Zizinho died of a heart attack in 2002, aged 80.
References (all accessed 2 March 2012):
- Published on Friday, 02 March 2012 14:44