Teenage kicks as Altafini strikes in Sweden
- Jose Altafini scored twice in Brazil’s 1958 FIFA World Cup opener
- At 19, he was the champions’ second-youngest player behind Pele
- Milan move ended his Brazil career and he went on to appear for Italy in 1962
It’s the 1958 FIFA World Cup™ and a Brazilian teenager is hitting the net.
But it is not, as you might expect, Pele dazzling supporters in Sweden. The match-winner captured in this image is in fact the squad’s second-youngest player, whose career took a very different path to that of his fellow prodigy after they lifted the World Cup together.
While Pele went on to become the tournament’s most successful player, winning the title on another two occasions, Jose Altafini returned just once – and did so in the colours of Italy. That unlikely switch of allegiances came as a result of taking the opposite course to Pele in his club career. Though O Rei remained wedded to Santos, staying at the club for the best part of 20 years, Altafini – the son of Italian migrants – agreed a big-money move to AC Milan.
Though still just 19, he proceeded to carve out a stellar career in Serie A, winning two Scudetti, one European Cup and twice being nominated for the Ballon d’Or with Milan before moving on to Napoli and Juventus. To this day, only three players – Silvio Piola, Gunnar Nordahl and Francesco Totti – have bettered his tally of 216 goals in Italy’s top flight.
But despite these achievements and Altafini’s evident and abundant talents – flair, speed, strength and an eye for goal – the move to Milan came at a cost. “At that time you simply ended your career at the Seleção if you moved abroad,” he later reflected. “That was it. But I was too young to not consider playing again at the World Cup. So I accepted the invitation to play for Italy.”
Other players who represented two different countries at the FIFA World Cup
Luis Monti (Argentina 1930, Italy 1934)
Ferenc Puskas (Hungary 1954, Spain 1962)
Jose Santamaria (Uruguay 1954, Spain 1962)
Sadly, while the 1962 World Cup would bring another world title for his former team-mates, it yielded only disappointment for Altafini and Italy. Gli Azzurri were eliminated in the first round, and the AC Milan forward – who had scored five times in four appearances prior to the tournament – failed to find the net. His performances were heavily criticised in the media and, though still just 23, he was never called up again.
It was a sad end to a World Cup career that began in such blistering fashion, with the goal captured in the above image one of two Altafini scored – on his Brazil debut no less – as the eventual champions kicked off their campaign in Sweden with a 3-0 win over Austria. Before losing his place for the semi-final and Final, he also lined up in the quarter-final win over Wales that witnessed Pele’s first World Cup goal.
And while these teenage adventures would be as good as it would get for Altafini on the world stage, for his fellow youngster, 1958 was just the beginning.
Did you know?
Altafini visited the FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich last year, becoming the first World Cup winner to sign its Wall of Champions.