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It is unfortunate that Waldir Peres, the Brazilian goalkeeper who died on Sunday aged 66, will be remembered mostly for his calamitous mistake in the 1982 World Cup match against the USSR.

waldir peres

Arquivo Histórico do São Paulo FC

Peres let Andrei Bal’s 30-yard strike squirm through his hands and the image became an unforgettable one for fans, particularly those outside Brazil, who thought of Brazilian goalies as no less dodgy than Scottish ones.

Peres was widely seen as the weak link in that star-studded team, alongside misfiring centre forward Serginho.

But Peres’ team mates did not agree with that assessment.

Sócrates was not close to Peres, who was older than he was and as a happily married homebody, not part of Sócrates’ drinking circle. The two also differed over Corinthians Democracy, with Peres and his team mates at São Paulo often dismissive of what they considered a distraction to the sole issue of playing football.

But Sócrates refused to condemn Peres for his mistake or single him out as a weak link. He pointed out that Peres was the best keeper in Brazil in the lead up to the 1982 World Cup and deserved his place.

Most notably, he had proved his worth in the 1981 mini-tour to Europe. Brazil beat France, West Germany and England and Peres was a factor in all three.

He saved not one but two penalties from Paul Breitner in the 2-1 win over West Germany that cemented Brazil’s position as favourites to lift their fourth World Cup title a year hence in Spain.

He was then excellent in the 1-0 victory over England at Wembley, a victory notable as the first time England had ever lost to a South American side at home.

Peres got his spot in fortunate circumstances, after first-choice stopper Carlos injured his elbow in the Mundialito tournament in Uruguay. Peres stepped in and helped Brazil to the final, defeating West Germany 4-1 in the process, before losing to the hosts.

But his performances helped cement his place, as did his personality.

He was quiet and serious and easy to get along with, unlike Emerson Leão, his other main rival for the No. 1 shirt. Leão had been first choice in 1974 and 1978 but seemed to enjoy rubbing people up the wrong way and coach Telê Santana refused to pick someone who would so obviously endanger the bubbly spirit in what was a settled and contented  side.

After that early error against the USSR, Peres composed himself and performed well. He had little do against Scotland or New Zealand and was reliable in the 3-1 win over Argentina in the second round.

He was also blameless in the fateful 3-2 loss against Italy. Brazil went out not because of goalkeeping errors but because they kept trying to win a game they only needed to draw. They were exposed at the back and only the harshest of critics could fault him for any of Paolo Rossi’s three goals.

Unfortunately for Peres, those incidents are forgotten now. But the facts speak for themselves. He won the Brazilian league title with São Paulo and three Paulista state championship medals. Only one player in the clubs history has more appearances that he has.

He is fondly remembered at São Paulo. He deserves to be known elsewhere for more than that one mistake.

In May 1990 I gave up my job to travel around the world. But before I even started, I put on my kilt, strapped on my backpack, bought a Eurorail ticket and went to the World Cup.

I spent three weeks traveling about Italy, watching games, eating and drinking well, and meeting people from all over the world. I had an absolute ball.

When I got to Genoa for Scotland’s first game against Costa Rica the city was quieter than I imagined. But as I got closer to the city centre, the noise level gradually increased until I turned a corner into the main square and the singing hit me. Hundreds of Scots were in the fountain (and thousands more were in the bars round about it). I got right in there.

(See some great pics from Fraser Pettigrew here at his flickr account.)

The atmosphere was a bit more subdued after we lost 1-0 but we cheered up a few days later. Scotland played Sweden and fans from both countries got together in the main square before the game and marched to the ground, led by a few jokers playing pipes and drums. The atmosphere was unbelievable. Anyone who equates football with hooliganism would not have believed their eyes at the friendship between the two groups of fans. (And I’ve seen it many times since.)

We won 2-1 that day and although I had a late train to catch, I wanted to celebrate. (You don’t get many chances to celebrate Scotland winning in the World Cup.) I remember spending the night in the train station, a little bit drunk, but very happy). The boom box playing Rod Stewart’s Greatest Hits never let up all night.

I’ll never forget Scotland breaking our hearts again, losing a late goal on a cold and rainy night in Turin to go down 1-0 to Brazil and get knocked out. Once again, we were so close and yet so far.

I got about a bit between Scotland games. I was there in Naples when Rene Higuita lost the ball to Roger Milla and the Cameroonian pensioner danced with the corner flag. It was so hot the chap stick inside my sporran melted.

I spent an afternoon with The Scotsman hack Aidan Smith and we patiently explained to Napoli fans on a tram that Hibs put five past them when Dino Zoff was their goalie. I juggled oranges outside the Estadio Sao Paolo and made enough to buy pizza and wine.

I bumped into Brazil captain Branco as he went to lay a wreath at Superga, the hill where the Torino team perished in 1949 after their plane crashed into the hillside.

I saw Ireland beat Romania on penalties and played keepie uppie with Brazilians in the main square in Turin. I taught them a thing or two that day.

Most of all, I realised that if you don’t worry too much about the football, you can have a rare good time at the World Cup. It was a realisation that has served me well in the years since.

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