In 1958, a 17-year-old Brazilian lit up soccer's biggest stage.
Published June 7, 2018
Published 11 days ago
Edson Arantes di Nascimento — the most celebrated soccer player of all time, and arguably the greatest — was born in Brazil on October 23, 1940. He grew up poor, playing the game that later made him a hero to millions with makeshift balls made out of socks and newspaper. From 1956, when he signed his first professional contract, to 1977, when he finally retired, he scored between 757 and 1283 goals, depending on how you count them, and won three World Cups, a feat that no other player has matched. He had many nicknames, including The King of Football, but the one that really stuck was Pelé.
In the summer of 1958, as a prodigiously talented but still green teenager, Pelé flew to Sweden with the Brazilian national team for the World Cup. By the time he returned home, having helped his country to its first World Cup win, his name was known around the globe.
Popperfoto/Getty ImagesPHENOMAfter a spectacular start with Santos, his first professional club, Pelé joined the Brazilian national team at 16. He played his first international match — and scored his first international goal — in Brazil’s 2-1 victory over Argentina on July 7, 1957. Less than a year later, he was Sweden-bound. (Pictured: Pelé, right, with Santos teammates in 1957.)
Popperfoto/Getty ImagesCHECK UPAfter being selected for Brazil’s World Cup team in 1958, Pelé suffered a knee injury that kept him out of Brazil’s first two games of the tournament. (The Brazilians won the first, against Austria, and drew the second, against England.) But the young forward was cleared to play against the Soviet Union in the last game of the group stage. (Pictured: Medical staff examine Pelé in 1958.)
Popperfoto/Getty ImagesDEBUTOn June 15, 1958, Pelé became the youngest player ever to appear in the World Cup, setting a record that stood for 24 years. (Norman Whiteside of Northern Ireland broke it by six months in 1982.) Pele’s teammate Vavá scored twice, and Brazil beat the Soviets 2-0 to advance to the knockout stage. (Pictured: Pelé, third from left, lines up with Brazil before its match against the Soviet Union.)Popperfoto/Getty ImagesSTRATEGYPelé sits with a board game.
Popperfoto/Getty ImagesFIRST GOALBrazil’s closest match of the knockout stage came in the quarterfinals, against Wales. The 0-0 tie was finally broken in the 66th minute, when Pelé scored the game’s only goal. Brazil advanced to the semifinals, and Pelé entered the record books again, this time as the youngest player ever to score in a World Cup. (Pictured: Pelé's teammates congratulate him in the back of the net after his game-winning goal.)Mondadori Portfolio via Getty ImagesSIGNING AUTOGRAPHSadoc-photos/Corbis via Getty ImagesHEADS UP
PA Images via Getty ImagesHAT-TRICKOn June 24, Pelé broke out for three goals — his team’s third, fourth, and fifth — in Brazil’s 5-2 victory over France. The French star Just Fontaine, who scored a record 13 goals in that year’s World Cup, later said, “When I saw Pelé play, it made me feel I should hang up my boots.” (Pictured: Pelé scores the first of his three goals.)Popperfoto/Getty ImagesTHE VIEW FROM THE STANDSPelé scores another goal against France.LE TELLIER Philippe/Paris Match via Getty ImagesMAKING HEADLINESPelé and his teammates check the papers in advance of their match against Sweden.
LE TELLIER Philippe/Paris Match via Getty ImagesKICKING BACKPelé relaxes during a practice.Keystone/Getty ImagesTWO KINGSThe future King of Football meets the King of Sweden before the World Cup final.Keystone/Getty ImagesPLAYING THE SWEDESBrazil met host-country Sweden in the championship on June 29. The Swedes scored first, four minutes into the match, but Brazil scored twice to take a lead into halftime. (Pictured: Pelé and Swedish keeper Kalle Svensson jump for a ball in the World Cup final.)
Popperfoto/Getty ImagesBEATING THE SWEDESIn the 55th minute, Pelé scored a spectacular goal that ultimately proved decisive.Bettmann ArchiveOVERCOMEIn the 90th minute, Pelé scored again, this time on a header — his second goal of the game and his sixth of the tournament — to extend Brazil's lead to 5-2. “Then, all of a sudden,” he recalled in his autobiography, an excerpt of which the Guardian published in 2006, “I passed out in front of the goal. Garrincha came over and picked up my legs to circulate the blood to my head. When I came to, the game was already over. I was overcome with emotion.” (Pictured: Pelé, wearing number 10, celebrates with his teammates on the field after their World Cup victory.)Popperfoto/Getty ImagesTHE THRILL OF VICTORYPelé celebrates Brazil's win.
LE TELLIER Philippe/Paris Match via Getty ImagesTAKEOFFBrazil and Pelé went on to win two of the next three the World Cups.LE TELLIER Philippe/Paris Match via Getty ImagesLEGEND IN THE MAKINGPelé went on to a brilliant career, achieving lasting international renown as an athlete and humanitarian: in 1994, he was appointed UNESCO Champion for Sport, and in 1999, the International Olympic Committee named him the Athlete of the Century.Popperfoto/Getty ImagesAnd it all started in Sweden.