It took a 17-year-old phenom to finally turn things around for Brazil.
Present at each World Cup since its start in 1930, Brazil had always fallen short — most notably in 1950 when the host country lost the final match to Uruguay.
The trauma of losing that game in front of a crowd some have estimated at more than 200,000 in the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro was so overwhelming that Brazil decided to ditch its white shirts in favor of what has become the iconic yellow shirt.
It wasn’t long before Brazil became champion. In 1958, Brazil won its first World Cup in thrilling fashion, defeating host Sweden 5-2 in the final and in the process becoming the first team to win the tournament outside its continent.
The tournament is largely remembered for the emergence of 17-year-old Edson Arantes do Nascimento. Pele, as he is better known, hadn’t actually started the tournament, but coach Vicente Feola was forced into making changes after his team labored to a 0-0 draw against England.
The changes worked, none more so than the introduction of the agile and supremely skillful Pele. What astounded those who saw him was just how calm someone so young could be at moments of high drama.
Pele scored the only goal as Brazil beat Wales in the quarterfinals and he then netted a hat trick in Brazil’s 5-2 semifinal victory over France. He added a further two goals in the final, with Brazil playing in blue because Sweden was wearing yellow.
His first goal, in the 55th minute, put Brazil ahead 3-1 and effectively ended the match as a contest. It is as memorable as any scored in a World Cup final. Controlling a looping ball into the penalty area with his thigh, Pele flipped it over his head, spun around and volleyed the ball past the Sweden goalkeeper.
A star was well and truly born.
AP World Cup coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup