Pele remembers despair of last Maracana final
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — It’s the day of the last World Cup finale in Brazil. Pele is nine years old. Back then, he’s just Edson Arantes do Nascimento.
Edson has been playing outside. He rushes into his house and notices his father is crying. Brazil has just lost to Uruguay at its sacred Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. The nation has been thrown into mourning.
“Eight years later in the World Cup in Sweden I saw my father cry again but with happiness because we won the World Cup,” Pele said on Saturday, the eve of the final’s return after 64 years to the Maracana.
He adds: “I have luck.”
With that first World Cup triumph in Stockholm in 1958 (the 17-year-old Pele scored twice in the final), a footballer and a team of Brazilians began a World Cup legacy that captured five titles, three of them for the man now known as Pele. No team or player can match that record.
On Sunday, Pele, now 73, will watch the final at the Maracana, one of 74,000 people — around 100,000 less than crammed into the arena in 1950 — at one of sport’s most glorious events. Sadly for him and 200 million others, Brazil won’t be there, but the man revered for 50 years as the world’s best player, the favorite son of the most celebrated team, will be.
He won’t be the main attraction or even a sideshow at the 2014 final. Unless FIFA and local organizers spring a major surprise, Pele won’t be part of the glittering closing ceremony that will include Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen.
The man who did more than anyone to make Brazil the No. 1 football nation on the planet has barely been seen during the World Cup.
His interview with The Associated Press on Saturday is at a sponsor’s event for Subway restaurants. He is sitting in a small backroom in Rio wearing a bright yellow Brazil shirt with a gold cross hanging from his neck and says he’s not fussed that he won’t be at the center of things on Sunday at the Maracana.
“I stay outside because I was four World Cups inside and I’m already 10 World Cups outside,” he said. “It’s not a surprise because I am here since the beginning of the World Cup ... but I’ll be there (at the final). I wish that we see a good game. I’ll be there.”
Soon after the interview, Pele popped up at the counter to help make some sandwiches. The crush of reporters and television cameras that pushed him back at one point was shrugged off with a smile and a joke: “Hey, if you don’t play nicely I will push you all outside!” he said in Portuguese.
In the back office, Pele told the AP he picked four teams to do well at this World Cup: finalists Germany and Argentina, and Brazil and Spain. Spain, the defending champion, was knocked out in the first round.
“I missed on Spain but I think everyone missed.”
For Pele, Germany is the best team and should win the World Cup, and he insisted his opinion was not based on Brazil’s fierce rivalry with Argentina and the possibility that they could lift the trophy at Brazil’s Maracana.
“We are neighbors. No problem. We are brothers,” he said, laughing now. “But, of course, if you be reasonable, honest, Germany is the better team. A more organized team. But this is the game: You never know what is going to happen.”
Brazilian star Neymar’s back injury, which ruled the man who now wears Pele’s No. 10 shirt out of the semifinals, was the most memorable moment of the tournament for Pele for the wrong reasons. And Brazil’s 7-1 semifinal rout by Germany was “a disaster,” he said.
“When you have a disaster, there’s no reason, no explanation,” he said. “You cannot have an answer for that. No way. This is football. A box of surprises.” He said he still thought Brazil’s football federation should stick with coach Luiz Felipe Scolari and the young team.
There was “no doubt” in Pele’s eyes that Brazil’s World Cup was an overall success: “We hope to finish the way we’ve been (going) ... with peace, beautiful games, a lot of people in the stadium.”
The interview ends with the recollections of 1950 and his father, who was also a footballer, but only for a local team. And then Pele switches back to this World Cup. He just can’t seem to shrug off that heavy loss to Germany.
“This World Cup, I thought I don’t want my son to see me cry,” Pele said. “He didn’t see me cry but very sad.”
Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP