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Moments of Artistry - Pelé

Our new “The Artists” collection will be launched on 15th February celebrating the exceptional skill and contribution of some of the greatest exponents of the beautiful game. There are 10 players honoured in this initial range and over the next few days our blogs will share some magical moments of artistry from each one of them. 

Today we feature Pele.

1 –Brazil 5-2 Sweden, World Cup Final 1958, Sweden

‘Modern football, more or less, had arrived, and with it its greatest player.’ Cris Freddi, The Complete Book of the World Cup

If Edson Arantes do Nascimento could have written his own script, he’d have been hard pushed to include any more romance than the 1958 World Cup Finals managed to supply. The 17-year-old striker had to wait until Brazil’s third group game, against the USSR, to make his World Cup Finals debut. He would have to wait until the quarter finals against Wales to score his maiden Finals goal. But he would have to wait until the final itself, against Sweden, to experience euphoria.

With the score 2-1 to Brazil, courtesy of goals from Vava, Pelés moment came. The ball was floated onto the edge of the box by Nilton Santos, and in one movement Pele rose to control the ball with his chest and simultaneously turned his marker, Parling. With the ball bouncing, Pelé lifted it over the ever-onrushing Gustavsson. 

Gustavsson managed to catch Pelé ever so slightly, sending the youngest player at the tournament, lithe with youth, sideways. Pelé though perfectly corrected his frame, and in an exhibition of technique volleyed past Svensson to make it 3-1 and take the game beyond the Swedes.

Relive it:

2 – Brazil 4-1 Italy, World Cup Final 1970, Mexico

Mexico ’70 was to be the last of Pelé’s World Cup Finals appearances, and much like his 1958 entrance, his exit could not have been written any better. The Santos legend scored three goals in the group stage, netting one against Czechoslovakia and two against Romania, as well as opening the scoring in the final against Italy. But it is testament to the team ethic of Brazil’s class of 1970 that his greatest moment at the tournament came not from a goal, but from an assist.

With the game already won at 3-1 and the Italians wilting in the Mexican heat, Brazil began to dictate the pace of the game with devastating effect. Clodoaldo began the move, going past four Italians before passing to Rivelino on the left flank. Rivelino took a cursory touch before firing the ball down the line to Jairzinho, who controlled the ball admirably. Jairzinho darted down the inside of Facchetti, Italy’s captain, who held firm forcing the Brazilian to move the ball onto Pelé in a central position.

Pelé took four touches in all. With the first he expertly controlled the ball, which had kicked up horribly off the dry turf, before taking another touch with his right foot. It is then that Pele seemed to slow time down for himself. His movement went from excited to masterful as he moved the ball with his left foot into the path of his right and laid the ball off into what looked to be empty space. It was then that Carlos Alberto arrived like a train to hammer the ball first time past Italy’s Albertosi in goal.

Relive It: 

3 – Brazil 1-0 England, Group Stage 1970, Mexico 

Both previous moments have been great examples of Pelé’s dominance, but perhaps one of his most memorable matches was one in which he didn’t have it all his own way.

England in 1970 believed they had a good chance of defending their title of World Champions, and with good reason too; with Banks, Moore, Bobby Charlton, Ball and Peters all in attendance England were a match for anybody, and so it proved.

Brazil 1-0 England doesn’t tell half of the story. England battled in the heat against Pelé’s Brazil, with the game going down in World Cup history as one of its greatest contests. Brazil’s genius was matched by England’s application, as Bobby Moore put on a defensive master class for the relatively new TV audience, stopping Jairzinho’s menacing run with a tackle which could only be timed perfectly in order to succeed.

But the best example of the contest is surely Banks’ save against Pelé. Carlos Alberto played a simply exquisite pass down the flank into Jairzinho’s stride. Jairzinho evaded his marker and made for the by-line like a moth to a flame, standing up a cross for Pelé on the edge of the six-yard box.

Pelé, known as one of the great headers of a football, rose majestically, almost impossibly above Wright, and sent the ball down towards Banks’ goal line in textbook fashion. As Banks came across to make what looked an impossible save, Pelé was already celebrating, arms outstretched, only to see the ball arc over the crossbar under Banks’ instruction. 

The moment is a perfect representation of what is best described as a fine contest; a rare occasion of two sides playing excellent football against one another, with Pelé’s brilliance put to the ultimate test.

Relive It:

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