When the Dutch led the way
Brazil versus the Netherlands has given us some wonderful World Cup memories. The 1998 semi-final was one of Ronaldo's best performances in the competition. The Dutch should probably have won a pulsating game, losing their nerve in the penalty shoot-out, but they softened up the Brazilians for France in the final.
The 1994 quarter-final had Bebeto's immortal 'rock the cradle' celebration, a shock Holland comeback and finally Branco's spectacular long-range free-kick.
But the really important contest - the one whose repercussions continue to ripple through the game - was the meeting in West Germany in 1974. In what was effectively a semi-final, the Netherlands won 2-0 while a frustrated Brazil, the reigning world champions, resorted to a full repertoire of rugby tackles and body checks.
Spearheaded by the legendary Johann Cruyff, that Dutch team have gone down in history as one of the greatest sides not to win the World Cup. Their style of play caught everyone's imagination.
Most often remarked on is how the players constantly changed positions. The game with Brazil supplies a classic example, right-back Wim Suurbier having a shot saved after cutting in from the left wing.
More fundamental than this, though, was the general idea of having as many players involved in the game as possible at any given time, with or without the ball.
Jan Jongloed had to be a sweeper keeper because the back line pushed so high up the field. Not because they were trying to play offside but because they were ferociously pressing to win the ball back.
In the space of a few weeks, the Netherlands rendered South American football obsolete. They toyed with Uruguay on their way to a 2-0 win, brushed Argentina aside 4-0 and then did for the Brazilians.
The South American playmakers were used to having time on the ball. Watch Brazil's Gerson in 1970. He picks up possession, wanders around chatting to his team-mates, pointing and gesticulating. He almost has time to get out the newspaper and check the headlines before deciding which pass to give. This was no longer possible.
In 1974, no sooner had the playmaker received the ball than half of the Netherlands was charging towards him, anxious to win it back and set an attack in motion. They pressed collectively to win possession and then offered the man on the ball options for a pass.
It was the definitive moment when football stopped being a collection of man-against-man duels and became a constant contest of 11 against 11.
How could this new challenge be met?
A nation's footballing culture can be a complex thing, with different currents pulling in different directions. In the most general terms, however, Brazil and Argentina came up with very different responses to the Netherlands of 1974.
If there is any truth in Jonathan Stevenson's argument last week that Argentina have become the new Brazil, then this is the moment when the process begins.
After the 1974 World Cup, Cesar Luis Menotti took over as coach of Argentina. Something of a footballing philosopher, he had a passionate belief in the tradition of his country's game. Old style Argentine passing football could still compete with the big, strong Europeans, he argued, but the rhythm would have to be increased.
Hence the importance of the ever busy, fetch-and-carry Osvaldo Ardiles to the 1978 midfield. The Argentina side remains full of short players with a low centre of gravity, the classic build of the South American footballer.
Brazil's coaches were less philosophers than technocrats. They were fascinated with the Dutch team and made a brief attempt to imitate it under Claudio Coutinho in 1978. After that had failed and the more traditional approach of 1982 had not worked either, a consensus formed on the need for change.
It was argued that the physical evolution of the game and the fact players were covering more ground made more physical contact inevitable. So the Brazilians decided that if they could match the Europeans in physical terms, their extra skill would tip the balance.
This has been achieved with interest and Brazil are now a huge side. When they met Germany in the 2002 World Cup final, they did so at no physical disadvantage.
In this new, more athletic football, the statistics seemed to indicate that a move's chances of ending in a goal were reduced if it contained more than seven passes. So rather than old style elaborate moves through the middle - which Argentina love to indulge in, especially if Juan Sebastian Veron is on the field - Brazil put more emphasis on quick breaks down the flanks.
So Gilberto Silva is a symbol of the modern Brazil - a big, strong central midfielder of limited passing ability whose main function is to close down the middle of the field and plug the defensive gaps. But so is Maicon - a big, strong right-back with the pace, power and skill to rip through any defence.
Of course, the attacking full-back was part of the culture of Brazilian football before 1974, as was the defensive midfielder. But the forward bursts of the full-back have become more important precisely because the central midfielder makes less of an attacking contribution. And the defensive skills of the central midfielder are more important precisely because he has to cover for the full-back.
And this switch in balance, which profoundly alters the style of play, can be dated back to the day that Brazil lost 2-0 to Holland back in 1974.