An ode to Pele: Remembering the Brazil legend’s three World Cup wins

January 5, 2023

The football world said goodbye to Brazil and national legend Pele on December 29, who was the only player in footballing history to celebrate three World Cup wins for his nation. With that in mind, here is a closer look at O Rei’s glory in the 1958, 1962, and 1970 editions of the tournament.

Sweden 1958

Brazil won their first world title in the world’s sixth quadrennial tournament, which was hosted by Sweden from 8 to 29 June 1958. Brazil qualified top of Group 4 with five points, two ahead of the Soviet Union in second. They celebrated a 1-0 win against Wales in the quarter-finals and then a 5-2 drubbing of France in the semis, before a win by the same scoreline in the final against the hosts, Sweden. For his part, Pele scored in each of the knockout stages, taking his tally at the end of the tournament to six goals.

Pele 1958 World Cup

Three of these famously came in the semi-final battering of France, who reached the final in 2022 before defeat on penalties to Brazil’s rivals, Argentina. One of the game’s all-time greats alongside Pele, Lionel Messi, was finally able to get his hands on his first World Cup trophy, although he is yet to taste European glory with club side PSG. The Parisiens aren’t among many pundits’ betting prediction on football to get past Bayern Munich in the last 16 this campaign, as they have odds of 5/4 to progress compared to 8/13 for the Bavarians. 

Back in 1958, though, Pele’s glory would be the first of many, as he cemented himself as the World Cup’s most decorated player.

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Chile 1962

Brazil became only the second nation to retain the world title, alongside Italy in 1934 and 1938. Again, the Canarinha finished top of their group with five points, this time ahead of Czechoslovakia on three, with Pele getting on target in Brazil’s 2-0 opening win against Mexico. However, disaster would strike for O Rei in their second match against the Czechs, as he was injured in a 0-0 draw and would be unable to play the remainder of the tournament.

Indeed, over 50 years later, Pele would comfort Neymar on his tournament-ending injury sustained in the 2014 World Cup, which the PSG star nearly repeated in 2022. Back in Chile in 1962, the Canarinha proceeded to glory even in Pele’s absence, securing a 3-1 win over 1966 winners England before facing the hosts Chile in the semi-finals. A 4-2 win set up a final with the team that injured Pele in the group stages, Czechoslovakia. At the Estadio Nacional in Santiago before nearly 69,000 fans, Brazil came from behind to win 3-1 and win their second successive Jules Rimet trophy. 

Mexico 1970

16 years before the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City crowned Diego Maradona with his first World Cup, the world would bear witness to both Brazil and Pele winning their third. With a team boasting the likes of Carlos Alberto, Rivellino and Jairzinho alongside O Rei, the Canarinha’s squad for the 1970 tournament is widely considered one of the greatest-ever football teams. Indeed, Brazil ended the tournament having won all six games, with Pele scoring four goals in the process.

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However, then 29 years old and with vast experience amassed from a multitude of games for Santos, Pele inspired his side beyond mere goals, boasting a host of innovative skills and flicks which would have a lasting legacy in the world of football. In 1970, he helped his side top Group 4 before beating Peru and Uruguay in the quarter and semi-finals, respectively. Pele then opened the scoring in a dominant display against Italy in the final, the match ending 4-1 and remembered largely for Carlos Alberto’s 86th-minute strike, considered one of the tournament’s greatest-ever goals.

Three World Cup triumphs from four tournaments make Pele the most decorated player in the competition. It also cements his place as one of the best players to ever play the game, as he will forever remain a legend both for his country and club side Santos.

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