At 17, Pele conquered the world

Pele (right) became the youngest World Cup scorer when he beat Welsh goalkeeper Jack Kelsey to hit the only goal of the World Cup quarterfinal in June 1958.

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Pele burst onto the global stage at just 17 with dazzling goals as Brazil won the World Cup for the first time in Sweden in 1958.

"I have good and bad stories from World Cups. The '58 World Cup was a dream. I was a kid. Nobody was expecting it. Nobody believed in us. I remember some reporters saying: 'How can they take a 17-year-old kid to the World Cup finals," Pele recalled in an interview with FIFA.

As ever on the soccer field, Pele's timing was impeccable.

While the 1954 World Cup had been broadcast live to a small European audience, 1958 was shown more widely and far more people owned television sets.

Pele, who crowned his career 12 years later in Mexico in the first World Cup broadcast in color, was the first soccer star to play his entire career in the TV era.

In 1958, Brazil under coach Vicente Feola was also innovating.

They embraced the 4-2-4 formation and adopted a detailed approach to every aspect of preparation and planning.

The federation assigned a psychologist, Joao Carvalhaes, to the squad. He tested the players and pronounced Pele "too infantile."

"You may be right," Feola replied. "But you know nothing about soccer and I've seen Pele play."

Pele, nursing a knee injury, missed the first two group games, a 3-0 win over Austria and the first goalless draw at a World Cup against England.

He made his debut against the USSR in the final group match.

The brilliant and unpredictable winger Garrincha was also recalled after being left out of the first two group matches.

Veteran defender Nilton Santos is said to have led a delegation of players to see Feola demanding he change the team.

Their recall altered the complexion of a side that had only contained one black player in the opening game.

Youngest scorer

In the first three minutes, Pele and Garrincha hit the woodwork and Vava scored. Vava added a second after the break as Brazil won 2-0 and secured first place in the group.

Pele made history in the 66th minute of the quarterfinal scoring the only goal against Wales to become, at 17 years and 239 days, the youngest scorer in a World Cup.

He controlled the ball with his back to goal and Mel Charles marking him closely, flicked the ball toward goal with his right foot, spun and poked a shot through a challenge by Stuart Williams and in off the far post.

It was a goal fit to win a World Cup quarterfinal, but because all the quarterfinals kicked off at the same time and the technology meant only one game could be shown live, it was not seen at the time by the global audience.

Pele hit the last three goals as Brazil beat France 5-2 in the semifinals, pouncing on two loose balls in the goalmouth for a pair of well-taken poacher's goals and completing his hat trick with a stinging volley.

Just Fontaine scored for the losers and went on to finish the tournament with 13 goals.

"When I saw Pele play, it made me feel I should hang up my cleats," Fontaine said later.

Pele made his mark in the final on a Rasunda Stadium field made slippery by rain.

Pele was too quick for French goalkeeper Claude Abbes as he scored the first of his three semifinal goals.

Although his play, behind center forward Vava, epitomized the all-round attacking role associated with the modern No. 10, he had that shirt only by accident. Despite their careful planning, the Brazilians had neglected to submit squad numbers and were assigned them at random. Goalkeeper Gilmar, for example, wore three.

Sweden took a fourth minute lead. Pele struck the woodwork. Then Garrincha twice beat his men on the right and hit low crosses for Vava to tap in.

In the 55th minute, Pele scored the third with a memorable flourish.

With the hulking Sigge Parling at his back, Pele leaped and twisted to control a ball into the penalty area. By the time he landed Parling was behind him.

'Quick thinking'

As Bengt Gustavsson lunged in, Pele opted not to shoot, instead flicking the ball over the defender's head.

Shrugging off a bootful of studs in his thigh, Pele composed himself as the ball dropped, from a height of 3.2 meters (10.5 feet), FIFA has calculated, leaned forward and bounced a volley under goalkeeper Kalle Svensson.

"If I said I thought about it, I'd be lying," Pele told FIFA. "It was a spur-of-the moment reaction, quick thinking. When I controlled it I was going to hit it first time but then I thought quickly and adjusted. One of the strengths in my life and in my soccer was my improvisation, to change at the last second."

In the final minute, Pele rounded off another 5-2 win, with a looping header that finished a one-two he had started with a backheel.

At the final whistle, Pele wept as teammates hoisted him in the air.

"After the fifth goal, even I wanted to cheer for him," said Parling.

Fans watching round the world cheered too. King Gustav VI Adolf of Sweden came down to the field to shake Pele's hand. Soccer's king had been crowned.


© Agence France-Presse

5 comments about "At 17, Pele conquered the world".
  1. Bob Ashpole, December 29, 2022 at 4:03 p.m.

    Pele inspired kids all around the world. I was only 7 during the 58 world cup and I am sure that I didn't watch it. But after the world cup, Pele's story was a sensation. I remember that is when we started playing soccer in the schoolyard during recess.

    Little things can make large impressions on kids. I also had some great teachers, so there was a lot of encouragement, but Pele's story is better than any fairy tale. RIP.

  2. Santiago 1314, December 29, 2022 at 4:57 p.m.

    Rest In Peace; "O Rei"

  3. stewart hayes, December 29, 2022 at 5:42 p.m.

    I can't tell you how many times I must have watched 'Pele The Master and His Method' fimm sponsored by Pepsi.  It was a great film for all ages at soccer camps.  With all the goals he scored no wonder he was smiling all the time.  

  4. frank schoon, December 30, 2022 at 10:08 a.m.

    What can I say about a man who ,to me ,was the complete player, heading, shooting, dribbling, passing,  with either foot;he can do it all. To me, he should have received the NOBEL PRIZE, for giving INSPIRATION and LOVE, to millions and millions of people who watched him sculpting and manifesting the beauty of such a simple game with a ball, which in fact when playing it you realize  it is not a simple game.  

    PELE was more than a complete player he was a composite of so many great players. Realize, he grew up in an era, where good technique rules, exhibited by so many great players. His father once mentioned to him to study the shooting abilities of the great Ferenc Puskas', of Hungary, the ruling soccer power in the world in the 50's. The dutch copied much of the Hungarian style, and mixed it with Brazilian style of 1970WC.  Pele was in awe of Puskas when he first played against him in Spain.  As told by Bobby Charlton and George Best who witnessed Puskas feat of hitting the crossbar 10x in a row, as it came back for the 9th time he than chest trapped the ball  and proceeded to hit the cross bar with a volley for the tenth time.... 

     PELE grew up in an era that had SO MANY great technical players from whom he could learn, like PEPE, GARRINCHA, MATTHEWS, PUSKAS, DISTEFANO, DIDI and so many, many, many, many other greats. 

    In Austria, at that time, there was Ernst Happel ,the sweeper, who could shoot coke bottles off of the crossbar while  in his dress shoes, and later became coach and called by Cruyff and Beckenbauer  one the greatest coaches in the world. Happel did this stunt, whenever he was introduced to a new team as coach, in order to show who's boss, as he did when he was coach of the Dutch team of WC'78 in Argentina.  Great players have more respect for coaches who can show and tell how it is done, than the ones we today whose wallets is filled with coaching licenses...

                                                           NEXT POST.

  5. frank schoon, December 30, 2022 at 10:28 a.m.

    Coaching was in those days totally different, for in those days the players were more intelligent, street savvy, knew the in's and out's of the game and had great skills. The  coaches were former good players themselves. The players solved unexpected problems on the field during the game themselves and therefore the coaches played a much less significant role. Their important role was to blend the players into a most efficient team, that's it; that's it the rest is BS..... 

    The evolution of coaching has become one of coaches that knew the in's and out's of the game, who were good players themselves and well skilled and could demonstrate, as compared  to today's coaches, who are good with a stopwatch, good with a programmed laptop, but have difficulty taking on a lamppost 1v1, but for their saving grace have acquired a coaching license that tells them them they're a good coach; and not to mention are supported by a busload of assistant  laptop coaches....

    Likewise as Stewart mentioned, I would watch the 'PELE PEPSI' series in the middle of the night, over and over again. As I watched it, you begin to see more and more of the intricate details that are overlooked. In one scene, a group of players standing in a circle playing keep away, passed the ball whipping it with his backfoot, the ball traveled in such a short distance  over the head of the defender dropping right behind him....I almost fell out of my chair seeing this...I immediately had to copy this pass for I believe a coach needs to be able to demonstrate when teaching players....

    The other scene was with the leftwing going down the sidelines making two of his opponents go the opposite direction of the ball. In the middle of the night I working on this move in my bedroom in grad school. This Pepsi series is really all a coach needs for his kids, for if youth have this down after 3years, you've down a great job...and you know what, you don't need to have a coaching license but only need demonstrate..

    RIP, PELE, You have given me such a wonderful lifelong gift to appreciate....

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