Football legend Pele, who died on December 29, went down in history not only as an incredible striker but also as the only man to win the World Cup three times. France 24 takes a look at the three World Cups that resulted in FIFA calling Pele “immortal”.
Pele, the undisputed ambassador of the World Cup, was conspicuously absent from this year’s edition in Qatar. Despite battling cancer, the so-called “King of Football” followed and commented on the latest World Cup from his hospital bed in Sao Paulo. Eleven days after Argentina’s resounding victory in the final match, the legendary footballer passed away, much to the dismay of fans.
The world will no longer be able to enjoy “The King’s” witty looks and witty words at the World Cup. His prowess as a goalscorer – 1281 goals in 1363 matches according to the official tally, which was often inflated by Pele himself – made him a star but his performances at the World Cup (in 1958, 1962 and 1970) The victory made him a legend. , in part because the event first began to be televised.
>> In pictures: A look back at Pele’s extraordinary career
In 1958, for the first time in its history, the World Cup was televised. It turned out to be a stroke of luck, for football fans around the world might have missed out on the sensational performance of 17-year-old Edson Arantes do Nascimento (aka Pele). Injured just before the tournament in Sweden, the teenager missed Brazil’s first two matches for Santos FC. Despite his young age, he was employed as a key forward in his country’s line-up. He returned for the third game – and the rest is history.
He set a series of records, being the youngest player in a World Cup match and the youngest goalscorer of the tournament, scoring the only goal in the quarter-final match against Wales (1–0). He excelled with his technical mastery, with a hat-trick against France (5-2) in the semi-finals of Fontainebleau and the Copa, then a brace against Sweden (5-2) in the final. After this he became the youngest player to win the World Cup.
He wept in victory, his old teammates cheering him on, his tears reminding the world how young he was. His team-mate Gilmar told him: “Cry, my boy, it will do you good.”
1962: A bittersweet victory
Four years later, the boy was already a star. Europe tried to persuade him to join their clubs, but he remained loyal to Santos FC before joining Brazil to defend their crown as world champions in Chile. Pele started well, scoring against Mexico (2–0), but was injured during the first round match against Czechoslovakia. Sixty years before Neymar’s ankle injury, Brazil was obsessed with the story of Pele’s injured thigh. He did not play another match, and watched the Selecao become champions again thanks to four goals from Garrincha, Brazil’s second hero of the 1960s. It was a bittersweet victory, and it made him the youngest player to win two World Cups.
Pele dreamed of winning a third consecutive title in England, the birthplace of football, at the 1966 World Cup. But it was not to be. The king of football and his team were murdered by Bulgarian and Portuguese tackles in front of the referee. Pele was injured again and Auriverdes was knocked out in the first round. Angered, the legend vowed never to wear the yellow jersey again. He kept his word for two years, until a new generation of talent emerged and his former teammate Zagalo took over the reins of the Selecao.
Animated by a sense of revenge, Pele would go on to write the most beautiful page in his footballing history. The 1970 World Cup in Mexico was broadcast in color for the first time, making it even brighter. An entire generation of soccer fans was enthralled by images depicting the King’s virtuoso skills, his deadly Brazilian madness.
The tone was set from the start. Although Pele scored one goal in the opening match against Czechoslovakia (4-1), it was his stunning 50-metre lob over goalkeeper Viktor, which went just wide, that became the talk of the world. Such strokes of genius sometimes get the better of his opponents. For example, England goalkeeper Banks made a “century save” in the next match after a powerful header from the Brazilian star. Pele joked about the brilliant save for the rest of his life: “Today I scored a goal, but Banks stopped it.”
After scoring two goals against Romania (3-2), which would have been a hat-trick had it not been for a disallowed goal, and an easy quarter-final win against Peru (4-2), Pele put Uruguay ahead. He was once again lit up with a sense of revenge. All of Brazil remembers the fateful “Marcanazzo” of 1950, when La Celeste robbed Brazil of its first world title on home soil. Brazilian playwright Nelson Rodríguez compared the shock to Hiroshima. Pele took it upon himself to dry the tears of his country and father, whom he had seen crying on the day of his loss. Revenge came in full swing (Brazil won 3-1) and Pele almost scored. In a moment of mad inspiration, he took off running and passed out without even touching the ball, almost resulting in a cross-shot. The type of feint eventually became known as the “pele feint”.
Pelé also made his mark in the final, which Brazil won 4–1 with a stunning header goal and a brilliant blind pass, proving that he was an excellent striker and a team player. King finally added the third jewel to his crown, the only player to win the World Cup three times, making him “immortal”.
This article was translated from the original in French.