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Born: Wednesday 27 February 1929, São Paulo, Brazil
Djalma Santos was not just one of Brazil's finest ever defenders but one of the greatest players ever to play at right-back and one of the first real attacking full-backs the game had seen. He appeared in four World Cups for his country, winning two titles, and set a national record for international appearances that lasted for thirty years. At domestic level, he had the relatively rare distinction of having made more than 400 league appearances for two different clubs.
Born in São Paulo on 27 February 1929, Djalma grew up in a poor family and although his father wanted him to join the military, he had ambitions of being a pilot. Unable to afford flying lessons, he instead worked as a shoemaker to earn some money while at the same time playnig football locally in São Paulo. After a hand injury left him unable to work, Djalma began to pursue the game more seriously and attracted the attention of the city's top sides. After trials at a number of clubs, he eventually signed for Portuguesa where he began his senior career in August 1948.
In the early years of his career, Djalma was often used as a centre-half but eventually found his best position to be right-back. An strong and intelligent defender, he was frequently used to outwit opposing wingers and remove the danger that they might have posed his team. As his career progressed, Djalma and his opposite number on the left side Nílton Santos helped to begin the great Brazilian tradition of attacking full-backs. He was also known to get forward and take charge of dead ball situations, being an excellent striker of free kicks and penalties.
In the early years of Djalma's career, Portuguesa were a regular fixture in the top four of the São Paulo state league but without ever really looking like claiming the title. Djalma's performances were however good enough to earn him a place in the national team in 1952, as Brazil rebuilt following their shock defeat to Uruguay in the final match of the 1950 World Cup. His debut came in a goalless draw with Peru at the Panamerican Championship, which Brazil won, and he remained a fixture in the national team for most of the next fifteen years.
The first domestic success of Djalma's career came in the Rio-São Paulo Tournament later in 1952, as Portuguesa triumphed in a two game play-off against Vasco da Gama after the sides had finished the competition level on points. His first major international tournament came a year later at the South American Championship in Peru, where he appeared in all seven of Brazil's matches as they beat Paraguay 3-2 in a play-off to claim the title.
In 1954 he travelled to Switzerland for his first experience of the World Cup, in which Brazil eased into the last eight with a win over Mexico and a draw with Yugoslavia. The quarter-final against favourites Hungary degenerated into a violent game and gave Djalma the chance to score his first ever international goal from the penalty spot after Hungary had taken an early 2-0 lead. Although he converted the kick, Brazil ended up losing the game 4-2 having eventually been reduced to nine men. Djalma's performances in the finals were nevertheless good enough to earn him a place in the tournament's All-Star Team.
The following season brought another success in the Rio-São Paulo Tournament, with a play-off again being required against Palmeiras. After a 2-2 draw in the first game, Portuguesa won the second match 2-0 to claim the trophy for the second time. In 1956, Djalma appeared in the South American Championship for the second time but Brazil were only able to finish in a disappointing fourth place in the tournament in Uruguay. Another tournament took place the following year, with Djalma again ever present as Brazil reached their final game needing a win over Argentina to claim the title, but a 3-0 defeat left their hopes in tatters.
Djalma travelled to his second World Cup in 1958, but had fallen out of favour for the first time and was not picked for any of Brazil's first five games. With Newton de Sordi at right-back, Brazil reached the final with a string of impressive performances but Djalma was called in to replace de Sordi for the crucial match against hosts Sweden. He was the ideal player to mark Sweden's flying left winger Lennart Skoglund and had a fantastic game as Brazil won 5-2 to claim their first World Cup. So impressive was Djalma's performance that he was named in the All-Star Team again despite playing only one match.
1959 brought another near-miss in the South American Championship, with a draw against Argentina in the final game leaving Brazil runners-up again. Just before the start of the domestic season, Djalma left Portuguesa after eleven years and more than 450 league appearances, moving across São Paulo to join Palmeiras. In his very first season the club finished level on points with Santos and after three play-off games in January 1960, eventually claimed the state title. Later that year Palmeiras also claimed just the second ever edition of the Brazilian Cup.
In 1962 Djalma formed part of the Brazilian squad for the defence of the World Cup in Chile. This time he was first choice at right-back as Brazil reached conceded just two goals in their first four games. They went on to beat hosts Chile 4-2 to set up a final against Czechoslovakia, trailing early on but quickly levelling before half-time. Two second half goals, the second set up by Djalma, made them only the second team to retain the title and he became the first player to be named in the All-Star Team at three World Cups, a record equalled only by Franz Beckenbauer.
Now well into his 30s, Djalma won a second São Paulo state title with Palmeiras in 1963 and helped the team storm to success in the Rio-São Paulo Tournament in 1965, finishing ten points clear of nearest rivals Vasco da Gama. His form remained good enough to stay as a regular member of the national team right through to the 1966 World Cup in England. A surprise inclusion to many, at the age of 37, Djalma played Brazil's first two games but was left out for the must-win final group game against Portugal which Brazil lost 3-1 to crash out of the competiton.
Later in 1966 Djalma won the third São Paulo state title of his career with Palmeiras, adding another cup success the following year. After two years out of the national team following the World Cup disappointment, Djalma won one final cap for Brazil against Uruguay in the summer of 1968, his 98th international appearace giving him a national record which remained unbroken until 1998. Following the 1968 season, he intended to retire having made 498 league appearances for Palmeiras, but was persuaded to play on with Atlético Paranaense.
His excellent positional sense and great intelligence on the field enabled him to play on well into his 40s. Success in the 1970 Paraná state championship gave Djalma his final major honour and he eventually retired at the age of 42, after a career lasting more than 20 years. After briefly coaching Atlético, Djalma left professional football and devoted the rest of his working life to running soccer schools for children, first in Saudi Arabia and Italy. He eventually settled back in Brazil and set up a coaching school in Uberaba, where he still lives.
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- Published on Sunday, 08 April 2012 23:12