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The story of the Selecao's surprise selection for the 1970 World Cup features in the latest of our series chronicling the extraordinary power of belief

He may have had a large army at his disposal, but Brazilian dictator General Medici was a superstitious soul when it came to the fortunes of the Brazilian national team. Medici insisted that the presence in the squad of Dada Maravilha would bring the team good fortune in the 1970 World Cup, despite only being a squad player.

Team manager Joao Saldanha notoriously refused to comply with Medici’s requests to accommodate Dada in his squad, commenting: “I don’t choose the president’s ministry and he can’t choose my front line.” Joao sem Medo (Fearless Joe) was wrong. He was immediately replaced with the more flexible coach Mario Zagallo, who promptly included Dario in the squad.

He'll star alongside Pele and Jairzinho, you’ll see. They have God on their side in Mexico

It soon became clear that Dario and Medici were kindred spirits when it came to their beliefs in luck and destiny. The charismatic striker claimed to have spoken to God, seen UFOs and, ahem, masturbated before games in order to “make myself as light as the wind”. Medici informed anyone who cared to listen that his pet player would “star alongside Pele and Jairzinho, you’ll see. They have God on their side in Mexico.” On the face of it, Zagallo faced a difficult selection problem, and Dario didn’t figure a great deal in Brazil’s warm up games.

The team began the tournament well, and Zagallo was justified in leaving Dario as an unused substitute. He remained benched for the entire tournament, and later reflected: “I was a pawn in Medici’s political games.” Medici appeared happy enough when Brazil lifted the Jules Rimet trophy playing beautiful football. He might have been even happier had his favourite player made an occasional appearance.

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