Pele dies: Former side New York Cosmos honour Brazil icon's 'inestimable' legacy

By Sports Desk December 29, 2022

Pele leaves an "inestimable" legacy after changing football with his "sporting artistry and genius", the Brazil great's former side New York Cosmos said on Thursday.

The three-time World Cup winner's death was confirmed by Sao Paulo's Albert Einstein Israelite Hospital after he suffered multiple organ failure.

Pele had battled colon cancer prior to his passing, with his family travelling to be alongside him earlier in December after he had been moved to palliative care when his body stopped responding to treatment.

The 82-year-old has been lauded by numerous tributes from sporting greats, clubs and various organisations after his iconic career with Brazil and Santos.

He scored 643 goals in 659 matches over an 18-year period for Brazilian side Santos before representing the Cosmos between 1975 and 1977.

"The New York Cosmos family, past and present, grieve the loss of sporting icon Pele," read a statement from the Cosmos, for whom the forward played in the North American Soccer League.

"In 1975, Pele joined the New York Cosmos and helped popularise soccer across the United States. O Rei treated fans to numerous legendary moments on the pitch, including winning the 1977 NASL Soccer Bowl.

"During three seasons with the Cosmos, Pele helped transform the domestic landscape of the sport of soccer. Where once there had been baseball diamonds, now there were also soccer pitches.

"The Cosmos and their king not only started a sporting revolution in America, they also travelled the world to spread the gospel of the beautiful game, representing the world's most global city at the global game, leaving a lasting sporting legacy in India, China, and Japan, where their visits remain a cherished part of local sporting lore.

"His last game as a professional footballer was played on October 1, 1977, before a sold-out crowd at Giants Stadium and a global television audience.

"Pele played one half each for the only two clubs he ever represented, Santos and the New York Cosmos. Pele's name will forever be synonymous with sporting artistry and genius.

"His lasting impact on the sport of soccer is inestimable. Rest in peace, O Rei."

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    Like in 2016, 16 teams will feature at the tournament this year, with the USA one of six CONCACAF nations involved.

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    Argentina

    It is easy to see why La Albiceleste are the big favourites. They are the best team in the world, according to the FIFA rankings, and in Messi, they still have a player who is arguably the best in the world, even heading into his late thirties.

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    As soon as he features for Argentina at this tournament, Messi will become the Copa America’s all-time record holder for appearances – he is tied with Chile great Sergio Livingstone on 34, as it stands.

    Messi has scored 13 Copa America goals, which puts him joint-seventh on the all-time list, alongside fellow Argentina great Gabriel Batistuta. If he is able to replicate his four goals from the 2021 edition, then Messi could join Norberto Mendez and Zizinho at the top of the all-time charts – that is unless Peru's Paolo Guerrero and/or Chile's Eduardo Vargas were to net at least four times each to set a new record.

    Since the start of the 2011 Copa, Messi has had 102 shots – more than any other player. Surprisingly, his conversion rate stands at just 10.78 per cent, which is the second-lowest out of any player to have netted at least five goals in the competition in that time.

    With 15 titles to their name, Argentina are the joint-record winners of the Copa America, alongside Uruguay. They have played more Copa matches (201) and scored more goals in the tournament (474) than any other team, too.

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    Brazil

    This Brazil is not exactly the vintage of the 1990s or 2000s. With no Neymar, there's less flair, and more streetfighter grit, in Dorival Junior's squad.

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    He comes into the tournament on the back of an exceptional season with Real Madrid, having scored 24 goals across all competitions.

    Vinicius outperformed his 20.96 xG, while also providing nine assists and creating 56 chances for his team-mates.

    The forward spent much of the domestic campaign playing down the middle for Carlo Ancelotti's team, whereas for his country, he is likely to play wide left.

    Who occupies that centre-forward spot is perhaps up for debate. Endrick is a superstar in the making, though will Brazil's coach trust the youngster to lead the line from the off?

    Gabriel Martinelli is better on the flanks, though could do a job if required. However, with no Richarlison or Gabriel Jesus, that striker position does seem a possible weakness.

    There's no Casemiro, following his poor performances for Manchester United, but Douglas Luiz, Bruno Guimaraes and Lucas Paqueta form a steely midfield trio with genuine quality.

    With Ederson injured, Alisson is the clear number one, with Eder Militao and Marquinhos seemingly set to pair up at the back, with Gabriel Magalhaes and Bremer quality options in reserve, too.

    They face Colombia, Paraguay and Costa Rica in their group, and despite their struggles in World Cup qualifying, they are still the favourites to top that pool.

    Uruguay

    Now under the guidance of the enigmatic Marcelo Bielsa, Uruguay are being tipped by many to emerge as serious challengers in the United States. 

    A hat-trick from Liverpool's Darwin Nunez helped them thrash Mexico 4-0 in a pre-tournament friendly last week, while they also sit second in the CONMEBOL 2026 World Cup qualification standings, having beaten Brazil and Argentina last year.

    That latter victory makes them the only team to defeat La Albiceleste since they won the World Cup in Qatar. Messi and company have won the other 13 of their 14 matches as world champions.

    Nunez, who ranked joint-fifth in the Premier League for total shots (108) and eighth for xG (16.39) in 2023-24, is an ideal fit for the all-action attacking approach favoured by Bielsa, while tireless midfielder Federico Valverde brings balance alongside enforcer Manuel Ugarte and the cultured Rodrigo Bentancur.

    Luis Suarez, meanwhile, has received a surprise call-up despite not featuring in Uruguay's pre-tournament friendlies, having scored 12 goals and assisted five in 16 MLS appearances for Inter Miami this term.

    Neutrals should expect entertainment from a side that leads all teams in South American World Cup qualifying for xG (9.05), but as is so often the case with Bielsa's teams, there are questions at the other end. 

    Ecuador (4.52) and Venezuela (4.78) are among those to have allowed opponents a lower xG total in the CONMEBOL qualifiers than Uruguay (4.97 xGA), and goalkeeper Sergio Rochet can expect to be worked after usurping Fernando Muslera, who helped La Celeste finish fourth at the 2010 World Cup and win the Copa America one year later.

    Panama and Bolivia look unlikely to offer much of a challenge in Group C, making Uruguay's final match against the United States vital. Should they top their pool, they will land on the opposite side of the bracket to the Group A victors, widely expected to be Argentina. 

    Uruguay held the record for most Copa America victories outright between 2011 (their 15th title) and 2021 (Argentina's 15th). If we see Bielsa-ball in full flow, they could be contenders to reclaim their status as South America's top dogs.

    Colombia

    Colombia are the form team heading into the Copa America.

    They are unbeaten in 23 games, winning the last eight of those, including hammerings of the USA and Bolivia in pre-tournament friendlies.

    Luis Diaz scored one and set up another in that latter match - a 3-0 win - and he was the breakout star of the 2021 Copa America, scoring four goals to finish level with Messi at the top of the charts.

    Those four goals came from a combined xG of just 1.0, with Diaz netting an overhead kick against Brazil in the group stage, and lashing in a supreme strike from outside the area as Colombia beat Peru in the third-placed play-off.

    Diaz is Colombia's most potent goalscoring threat, but they also have James Rodriguez to rely on further back.

    James' club career has become a nomadic one, but for his country, the former Madrid playmaker is a superstar once again under coach Nestor Lorenzo, who has made the 32-year-old the main man.

    Having been left out of Colombia's squad for the 2021 edition, James will be eager to make up for lost time.

    Colombia are more than just dark horses. They should be considered among the very best teams at this tournament.

    THE BREAKOUT STARS

    Endrick is the obvious pick here. The teenager looks set for stardom, and he'll be linking up with Vinicius, Jude Bellingham and Kylian Mbappe at Real Madrid next season. He has scored three goals in his last four outings for Brazil, including a late winner against Mexico earlier in June.

    Alejandro Garnacho is now an established Premier League player, but he is only just finding his way for Argentina. He is yet to score for his country, but has stepped up in big moments for Manchester United this season, none more so than in the FA Cup final, in which he scored the opening goal in a 2-1 win over Manchester City.

    Colombia forward Jhon Duran  is reportedly of interest to Chelsea, and the Aston Villa attacker could be something of a wildcard for Lorenzo off the bench. His five Premier League goals in 2023-24 came from just 2.0 xG.

    THE OPTA SUPERCOMPUTER SAYS...

    As mentioned, Argentina are the clear favourites, with Opta's model handing them a 31 per cent chance of winning their 16th Copa crown.

    Brazil, as would be expected, rank second - their win likelihood is 23 per cent .

    Uruguay come in with a 13 per cent chance, ahead of the USA ( seven per cent ), Colombia ( six per cent ) and Mexico ( six per cent ).

    Two teams - Jamaica and Bolivia, who are the worst-ranked side in this year's edition of the tournament - are given a zero per cent chance of winning the trophy.

    Panama, who reached the CONCACAF Gold Cup final last year, can perhaps consider themselves hard done by to be given just a one per cent chance, however.

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