How tears inspired Brazil striker Pele to become a World Cup legend

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Footballing legend: Pele.

The World Cup and Pele are inseparable.

More than the deified striker’s 1,283 goals in 1,363 games, the story of football’s defining career is told through memories formed by its grandest stage.

It is a tale of redemption which begins with a nine-year-old child forced to console his distraught father during 1950’s infamous Maracanazo as hosts Brazil are left forever scarred by Uruguay’s upset victory on home soil in the final.

Joyful successes bookmark adventures in 1958 and 1970.

Injury-ravaged appearances in-between feature a bit-part role for 1962’s victory and painful group-stage elimination during 1966. As the now 77-year-old illustrates in this exclusive interview ahead of the latest World Cup in Russia, the competition provides “the great history of my life”.

“The World Cup to me, it is amazing and it means a lot,” says Pele, now frail in body but certainly not mind, at Hublot’s Match of Friendship in Dubai.

“A lot. First of all, I have one In the World Cup in 1958, Brazil won and I was there. 1970, as well. This is the great history of my life history to tell to the people. My father was a football player and when Brazil played the 1950 [World Cup] in Brazil, they lost.

“I was almost 10-years old and I saw my father cry because Brazil lost. He was a footballer, too. Then I did not know what to say to my father. I said: ‘Father, do not cry as I will win the World Cup for you, do not worry, do not worry’.

“In the World Cup in 1958, Brazil won and I was there. 1970, as well. This is the great history of my life.”

Pele was the beguiling, 17-year-old prodigy in 1958 who struck a semi-final hat-trick against France. To add to his nascent legend, a brace followed against hosts Sweden in the decider.

These are goals that still place him in the record books as the youngest footballer to do so at the finals.

Fast forward 12 years, past the washouts caused by the brutal treatment of malevolent defenders, and Edson Arantes do Nascimento, to give his full name, is the talisman of an intoxicating team who fittingly led the tournament’s charge into glorious Technicolour.

Alongside the likes of Rivelino, Jairzinho, Gerson, Carlos Alberto, Tostao and Clodoaldo, arguably the finest team on record combined to lavish effect. ‘The Beautiful Game’ nickname popularised and used so adoringly by Pele never appeared more apt.

This victorious summer in Mexico saw the legend of ‘O Rei’ (The King) grow beyond the fathomable.

It featured an attempted lob from the half-way line against Czechoslovakia, England goalkeeper Gordon Banks scrambling away a header for the best save on record, a famous feint to dumbfound Uruguay shot stopper Ladislao Mazurkiewicz and the nonchalant blind pass which Alberto fired home in the final against Italy for the greatest team goal ever scored.

In total at World Cups, he won three – the most by any player – and scored 12 times. A record for the ages.

This lineage is passed down to Neymar. The 26-year-old is the current arbiter of the five-time champions’ hopes, a forward gifted with a preternatural touch on the ball ready for action after three months of inactivity caused by his broken metatarsal.

When asked which superstar of the current generation he would most like to play alongside, Pele’s admiration and affection for the €222 million (Dh952.8m) Paris Saint-Germain forward is made abundantly clear.

“Neymar,” he replies. “It is difficult to measure, but individually he is a very good player.

“I just make a joke with him sometimes and say: ‘Listen, you are a good player and you have everything. But you’ll never be like me, because you do not score goals with your head – you must be good with your head, too.’ This is because he is very good at dribbling, and off both feet. But he is a fantastic player, no doubt.”

Correlations between Pele and Neymar move beyond their shared experiences with Santos and Brazil.

Colombia full-back Juan Zuniga’s unpunished foul in the 2014’s quarter-finals broke a bone in the latter’s back and ruled him out of the semi-final.

From there, the Mineirazo inflicted by eventual-champions Germany’s 7-1 humiliation caused pain which sent Pele back to his childhood.

Brazilian forward Pele (c) congratulates his team-mate Vava (20) after he scored versus Sweden in World Cup 1958's final.

Brazilian forward Pele (c) congratulates his team-mate Vava (20) after he scored versus Sweden in World Cup 1958’s final.

“I do not like to talk about this,” he says, accompanied by a mournful laugh. “But this is football.

“Brazil was an excellent team, and then we had a little problem. Neymar got an injury and football is a box of surprises.

“I think Brazil now has a young team and I think Brazil could make a very good World Cup this year.”

The current generation are strong contenders at World Cup 2018.

Charismatic and learned head coach Tite has lifted the gloom inflicted by Luiz Felipe Scolari and then Dunga.

Electric football under the new man saw the Canarinha go from sixth in CONMEBOL qualifying with a third of the campaign gone, to booking their flights to Russia with four rounds to spare.

Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus, Barcelona playmaker Philippe Coutinho and goalkeeper Alisson provide a burgeoning support cast.

Neymar is a talent barely without compare.

One of just two rivals with superior graces – the other being Portugal and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronado – is former Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi.

The Argentina idol’s candidacy to join countryman Diego Maradona and Pele at the highest echelon falls flat in some quarters for a simple reason – he has never lifted the World Cup. At 30-years old, the last viable chance to join the joint FIFA Players of the 20th Century could be imminent.

This promises to be the next edition’s main narrative. Is it one Pele, the tournament’s totemic advocate, can agree with?

He says: “He [Messi] doesn’t need to win to be good – he’s good anyway, you know?

“But it is important for a player like him to have an opportunity to win the World Cup. He is an excellent player, no doubt.”

For Pele, this debate was ended 60 years ago. A sporting life continues to be lived without compare.

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See the Egypt, Nigeria and Belgium stars gear up for World Cup 2018 with a host of friendlies

David Cooper 7/06/2018
Eden Hazard of Belgium against Egypt on Wednesday night.

Preperations for World Cup 2018 continued with a trio of friendlies on Wednesday.

Mohamed Salah-less Egypt were put to the sword by Belgium, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Marouane Fellaini getting the goals at Heysel Stadium for a 3-0 victory.

Panama dominated possession in Norway, but Bournemouth forward Joshua King earned a 1-0 victory in just the fourth minute for the hosts at Ullevaal Stadion.

The early match saw another 1-0 defeat for World Cup entrants against non-qualifiers. Amid the pouring rain of Austria’s Rudolf-Tonn-Stadion, Nigeria were felled by Czech Republic and Chelsea-owned centre-back Tomas Kalas’ solitary effort.

Check out our gallery of the day’s action.

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Harry Kane and Trent Alexander-Arnold feature among England v Costa Rica talking points

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Gareth Southgate's England will play their final warm-up game ahead of the WC.

England play their final World Cup warm-up when Costa Rica visit Leeds on Thursday night.

Here, we look at the key issues before the game.

WILL HENDERSON RELISH HIS RETURN?

Jordan Henderson saw a potentially career-defining night go up in smoke in Kiev when he captained Liverpool to their Champions League defeat by Real Madrid. He was given extra time to holiday with family and was present only as a spectator for the victory over Nigeria at the weekend. The midfielder insists he is ready to get “back to business” for his country but how much did leading his club on such a draining night really take out of his mental reserves?

Henderson was given some extra time off to be with his family.

Henderson was given some extra time off to be with his family.

PICKFORD OR MIX?

All signs seem to be pointing toward Everton’s Jordan Pickford wearing the gloves against Tunisia in Volgograd, after he followed 90 minutes at Wembley with the coveted number one jersey in the official squad lists. Logic dictates that with just three caps to his name, he needs another outing before Russia. But manager Gareth Southgate is a big admirer of Jack Butland and could be tempted to offer one last chance to the Stoke man. It would, though, take a major showing to upset the agenda at this stage and England will be hoping Costa Rica do not work their chosen goalkeeper that much.

It will be interesting to see if Pickford starts ahead of Butland again.

It will be interesting to see if Pickford starts ahead of Butland again.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

England are back at Elland Road after a 16-year absence, and playing away from Wembley for the first time since their pre-Euro 2016 fixtures took them to the home grounds of Manchester City and Sunderland. With the sale of the national stadium being debated at present – and one of the suggested benefits being more freedom to take the Three Lions away from the capital more frequently – it is a big night in PR terms. A passionate crowd, a different experience and positive reports from players and fans could help promote the idea of a touring England team.

England will be away from Wembley for the first time since 2016.

England will be away from Wembley for the first time since 2016.

ALEXANDER-ARNOLD TO CRASH THE PARTY?

It is getting late in the day for Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold to make a play for a first-team role in Russia. By the time the full-time whistle blows England’s Group G opener will be just 11 days away and he has yet to play a single minute for his country. But his entire career development has been played out in advanced fast-forward this season, from youth prospect to Champions League finalist in the blink of an eye. He will expect to see some action against Costa Rica and will be eager to steal the limelight.

Alexander-Arnold will be eager to feature against Costa Rica.

Alexander-Arnold will be eager to feature against Costa Rica.

SYSTEM CHECK

Despite Southgate’s best denials, it is hard not to see this fixture as a direct warm-up for the group game against Panama. Costa Rica may be be ranked 30 places higher than their fellow Central Americans but how England line up against them – and the kind of football they try to play – will surely offer heavy hints about Southgate’s plans. If there is even a slim chance he will switch his back three to a back four against Panama, or be tempted to pair Jamie Vardy with Harry Kane, this would be the moment to test the water. Eyes peeled for clues.

It will be a final chance for Southgate to test his formations.

It will be a final chance for Southgate to test his formations.

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