Pele was the world’s best player going into the World Cup in 1966
By the time of the World Cup in 1966, Pele was the most famous footballer in the world. He started the tournament in typical fashion with a goal from a free kick against Bulgaria, making him the first player to score in three World cups.
Unfortunately though, that was the last moment of joy Pele experienced in the World cup in England. The Bulgarians spent the rest of the game fouling and kicking Pele forcing him out of Brazil’s second game against Hungary.
Brazil lost that game meaning they needed a win in their final group game against Portugal. However, Portugal had obviously seen the success Bulgaria had achieved in taking Pele out of the game by kicking him and followed suit.
Despite persistent and violent fouls on Pele, the referee refused to send off any off the Portuguese defenders and Pele had to hobble on for the ninety minutes as substitutes had not yet been introduced into the game.
It was said that the referee let Portugal “get away with murder” as their disgraceful challenges on Pele went unpunished and the world’s best player was kicked and stamped out of the tournament.
Brazil were eliminated from the World cup at the group stage and Pele vowed to never again play in a World Cup.
Santos, with Pele’s goals, continued to dominate Brazilian football.
Back on top of the world
Thankfully, Pele was selected, and agreed to play in the World cup in Mexico in 1970. The Brazil team was much changed from that of 1966.
Pele opened his account for the tournament with a goal in a 4-1 over Czechoslovakia, although the game is more remembered for Pele’s audacious attempt to lob the goalkeeper from inside his own half. Pele hit a fantastic shot over the goalkeeper but saw the ball go just inches wide.
In Brazil’s second game Pele failed to find the net thanks to a spectacular save from Gordon Banks of England. He did however, set up the only goal of the game in a 1-0 victory for Brazil.
Brazil progressed to the quarter finals where they met Uruguay and Pele had one of his most famous moments. He was played in behind the defence and he and the keeper both raced to the through ball. Pele got to the ball first but instead of playing it, he dummied to take it round the goalkeeper. The ball ran across the face of the confused keeper as Pele darted behind him to meet it.
He hit a shot to the empty net but pulled the ball back slightly too far and his shot went just wide of the far post.
Like his shot from the half way line in Brazil’s opening match, despite failing to find the net, Pele was showing his attacking imagination and flair was superior to anyone else the game had ever seen before.
It mattered not though as Brazil went on to win the final and Pele’s third World Cup winner’s medal. Pele opened the scoring in the final against Italy and played the final pass to Carlos Alberto to lash the ball past the Italian goalkeeper after a brilliant piece of teamwork and passing from the whole Brazilian team.
Pele was named Player of the Tournament in what was a perfect way to erase the pain of the treatment he received in 1966.
Living in America
Pele saw out the remainder of his playing career in the USA after leaving Santos for New York Cosmos in 1975.
He played in several exhibition games around the world as well. In fact Pele was such a big draw, he was inspired a ceasefire during a civil war in Nigeria as the two warring factions agreed to call a truce to watch the great man play.
It is reported that Pele scored over 1,000 career goals throughout his career, although this figure is debated as some experts claim it includes youth matches and friendlies.
What there is no doubt about is that he was the greatest player of his generation, and one of the greatest of all time.