Pele dies: Brazil hero's greatest games showed a master at work

By Sports Desk December 29, 2022

Pele was football's ultimate fox in the box, a player who dealt in quantity as much as quality, whose eye-popping career statistics alone marked him out as one of the greats.

Footage is scarce of peak Pele, the player who emerged as a teenage sensation in the late 1950s and shone on the world stage for almost 15 years. That which is available shows a nimble forward with a devastating finish.

The Brazil great became as globally revered as The Beatles and Muhammad Ali, who became peers of his, and Pele's death at the age of 82 has sent a shudder through the sporting world.

Those who saw him in action speak of a player who took football to a new level, leaving tormented defences in his wake as he set record after record.

Here, Stats Perform has picked out five games that underlined the greatness of the man born Edson Arantes do Nascimento.


1958: World Cup semi-final, Brazil 5-2 France

The World Cup would never be the same after the 17-year-old Pele took the tournament in Sweden by storm.

He hit a hat-trick in the semi-final against France, feeding off scraps for his first two strikes, both of which came from close range, before rattling in a stunning third.

Pele took a pass in his stride on the edge of the penalty area, and as the ball looped up he sent a rasping strike from 18 yards into the bottom-left corner.

He would hit seven hat-tricks for Brazil across his career, but this was the first, carrying the Selecao through to a clash with the hosts.

1958: World Cup final, Brazil 5-2 Sweden

After the semi-final heroics, it turned out that Pele had a pretty good encore to come.

Vava's first-half double put Brazil 2-1 ahead, but the final will be largely remembered for Pele's majestic strike that increased that lead early in the second half, when he flicked the ball over a defender at close quarters in the penalty area before volleying past goalkeeper Kalle Svensson. It was pure artistry, a teenage master at work.

It made Pele the youngest scorer in a World Cup final, at 17 years and 249 days old, and for good measure the teenager put the seal on victory with a late header, completing a double for a tournament haul of six goals.

Just Fontaine's incredible haul of 13 goals for France made him the top scorer, but Pele took the plaudits and Brazil savoured a first World Cup triumph.

1962: Intercontinental Cup final, second leg, Benfica 2-5 Santos

Injury cruelly meant Pele only played a small role in Brazil's successful World Cup defence, but three months down the line, in September and October 1962, he served up a dish of his world-beating best.

A clinical double at home in the first leg gave Santos a 3-2 advantage against Benfica in the Intercontinental Cup, a clash of the reigning Copa Libertadores and European Cup champions.

Pele saved his best for the second leg in Lisbon, grabbing a hat-trick against a Benfica defence who had little answer to his dribbling, pace and power. At the other end of the field, Eusebio could not match Pele.

Benfica goalkeeper Costa Pereira accounted for the 5-2 drubbing at the Estadio da Luz by lauding the prowess of the chief tormentor, saying he had been "undone by someone who was not born on the same planet as the rest of us".

Team-mate Antonio Simoes told Portuguese publication Sol in 2022: "Even today, when people ask me who is the best player I have seen in my entire life, I answer that it is Pele. I've never seen anyone do things like he did. I was dazzled. Benfica was the best team in Europe. But Santos was the best in the world."

1963, Roca Cup, second leg, Brazil 5-2 Argentina

Pele fired another hat-trick as Brazil retained the Roca Cup with a statement victory in Rio.

This was a competition contested sporadically by the great South American rivals, and a 3-2 win for Argentina at the Morumbi stadium in Sao Paulo had given them the edge heading into the second leg at the sprawling Maracana.

Reports said a crowd of around 130,000 attended the game, and Pele came up trumps with a hat-trick, including two penalties after he was felled each time.

Pele had made his Brazil debut against Argentina six years previously in an earlier Roca Cup clash, and now into his early twenties he remained the star man for the two-time world champions.

Brazil's 4-1 lead after 90 minutes meant they were ahead on aggregate, but curiously the game still went to extra time, with both sides having a win apiece, with the overall score only counting after they split the extra period 1-1.

1970: World Cup final, Brazil 4-1 Italy

Injury scuppered Pele's hopes of making an impact at the 1966 World Cup in England, but four years later he was back and eager to help Brazil reclaim the Jules Rimet Trophy.

The crowning moment of his career and this golden age of Brazilian football would come at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, with Pele to the forefront in a thumping win over the Azzurri.

Brazil won every game they played at this World Cup, including a group-stage victory over defending champions England, while Italy knocked out West Germany in the semi-finals.

Come the title match, Pele headed the opener for Brazil, climbing astonishingly high at the far post, and he later nodded the ball down for Jairzinho to plunder their third.

Brazil's piece de resistance in the final was Carlos Alberto's majestic strike that put the seal on the win, with an exceptional team move climaxing with Pele almost casually laying the ball into the path of the captain who thundered a shot past Enrico Albertosi.

Pele would never play another World Cup game, and he could hardly have gone out on a greater high.

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