1958: The arrival of Pele

The star of Brazil’s WC-winning show was the then unknown 17-year-old Pele who saw off Wales in the quarterfinals, scored a hat-trick in the semis and then announced himself to the world with a magical goal against the host in the final.

The 1958 World Cup saw the emergence of ‘Black Pearl’ Pele. Here the Brazilian heads a goal against Sweden in the final.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

Brazil’s World Cup pedigree when it travelled to Sweden in 1958 was relatively mediocre; but when it returned, the world had been introduced to samba football. The tournament had its moments: there was Just Fontaine’s remarkable 13 goals in the competition and minnows Northern Ireland and Wales making the last eight. But the star of the show was the unknown 17-year-old Pele who saw off Wales in the quarterfinals, scored a hat-trick in the semis and then announced himself to the world with a magical goal against the host in the final.

Brazil had decimated a semi-decent French side in the semis 5-2 and faced host Sweden for the title. With players like the flying winger Kurt Hamrin, playmaker Nils Liedholm, veteran striker Gunnar Gren and tough defender Orvar Bergmark, Sweden was no pushover and a close game was expected, especially with the weather turning to be decidedly un-Brazilian.

The host went in with its tail up, playing in front of 50,000 home supporters at Rasunda Stadium. Four minutes into the game, a magnificently worked goal by Sweden's “Italian connection” resulted in Liedholm scoring. This was the first time Brazil had gone a goal behind in the competition, and there were many who thought that should this happen, the ball-playing magicians would crumble.

Host: Sweden

Teams: 16

Matches: 35

Goals: 126

Attendance: 8,19,810

Winner: Brazil

Golden Boot: Just Fontaine (FRA) — 13 goals

Best Goalkeeper: Harry Gregg (Northern Ireland)

Best Player: Didi (BRA)

But it only spurred on the Brazilians, and the Swedish joy was short-lived when, five minutes later, Garrincha beat his marker to cross the ball around the back of the Swedish defence for Vava to draw parity. After half an hour an almost identical goal gave Brazil the lead.

Pele took over in the second half. Ten minutes after the restart, he scored a gem when he trapped the ball with his chest, rounded off his man and volleyed the ball into the net. He added one more in the last minute, when he started the move with a cheeky back-heel to Zagallo and then collected the winger’s cross to head home Brazil’s fifth.

After the 5-2 victory, Pele was in tears as he established himself as the brightest star on the scene and asserted Brazil’s mastery over the beautiful game.