A nation full of hopes but with memories of past failures. Brazil had qualified for each of the previous world cups but they had all ended in disappointment including the bitter loss at home in the final of 1950. A 17 year old sensation led the charge for the samba boys & changed the football landscape forever. Let us have a look at the incredible tournament that was staged in Sweden.
The 1958 World Cup in Sweden marked a new era in the tournament. Although the festivities in Switzerland four years earlier were televised, the 1958 competition was the first to receive international television coverage. For the first time, people from all corners of the globe had the opportunity to watch soccer’s brightest stars compete in the game’s showcase event. International television and the World Cup combined to create the perfect stage from which the career of the most recognized athlete of the 20th century and the greatest soccer player of all time was launched. Brazil introduced two new players to the World Cup – a little winger called Manuel Francisco dos Santos, known as Garrincha, but more importantly, a 17-year-old called Edson Arantes do Nascimento, or more simply, Pele. With the world watching for the first time, Pele – who didn’t start the tournament but was only added before the knockouts began, mind you – became, arguably, the game’s first global superstar.
Nothing could stand in Brazil’s way. Wales, who along with Northern Ireland made a significant impact in this tournament, did well to limit them to a 1-0 quarter-final win. France, another revelation, boasted of a star striker of their own in Just Fontaine, who was to set an astonishing World Cup scoring record of 13 goals in a single tournament. But they were swept aside 6-3 in the semi-finals as Pele fired in a hat-trick. Hosts Sweden rode the support of the home fans into the final by beating holders West Germany in the last four. But in the final they were undone by the boys from Brazil, Pele and Vava grabbing two each in a 5-2 win. And the most famous goal of them all? When Pele lobbed the last defender and volleyed into an empty net. In what was one of the most feel-good endings to a World Cup, the Swedish crowd gave Pele and the Brazilians a standing ovation, the winning team in turn celebrating with the Swedish flag. The Selecao were winners on and off the pitch. The teenager who was inconsolable in the immediate aftermath would later reveal that the 1950 World Cup final defeat had left his father in tears and he had made a promise to him that he will bring home the trophy. “My first thoughts were about my family,” Pele wrote in his autobiography. “Did they know that we were champions? I wanted to speak to my parents but there were no telephones, so I kept on saying, ‘I’ve got to tell my dad, I’ve got to tell my dad.’ “I only managed to speak to him in the following days, using an international radio. I can remember saying things like: ‘Did you see me with the Swedish king? Over,’ and “I shook the king’s hand. Over.’ ”
Pele sat out the first two matches because of injury and didn’t play until Brazil’s final group game against the Soviet Union. It wasn’t until the quarterfinals, against Wales, that he scored his first goal, before netting a hat trick in the semifinals versus France. He added a brace in the final, to take his tally to six and help Brazil win the first of five World Cups. The world had been introduced to the mercurial talents of Pele, and the soccer dynasty known as the Brazilian national team was born. Soccer would never be the same again. Following a day of heavy rain, Brazil and Sweden walked out onto a slippery field before 50,000 fans jammed into Stockholm’s Rasunda stadium and millions more around the world watched on television. Brazilian manager Vicente Feola made one key change, taking out defender Newton de Sordi and inserting for the first time in the competition Djalma Santos, a member of the 1954 World Cup team. It proved an astute move: Djalma and Nilton Santos brilliantly combined to defuse the dynamic Swedish scoring duo of Lennart Skoglund and Kurt Hamrin.
It was the Swedes, though, who struck first, Gunnar Gren feeding a pass to Nils Liedholm who skipped past two defenders and fired the ball into the right-hand corner of the net in the fourth minute. It was the first time Brazil trailed in the tournament. The beast sufficiently agitated, Brazil instantly came to life and leveled the affair five minutes later when Garrincha beat his marker and delivered a pass into the middle for Vava who scored. The same pair hooked up at the 30-minute mark, Vava scoring an almost identical goal. Pele gave Brazil a two-goal cushion in the 55th minute when he netted a stunningly breathtaking goal — standing in a crowd in the penalty area with his back towards the goal, he trapped a high pass with his chest, knocked the ball over his head while being marked by a defender, whirled around and volleyed it past Swedish goalkeeper Karl Svensson. A legend was born. Winger Mario Zagalo, who went on to coach Brazil to victory at the 1970 World Cup, made it 4-1 13 minutes later. Agne Simonsson scored with 10 minutes left in regulation for Sweden but Pele bagged his second of the game in the 89th minute, rising majestically through the air to score on a header from a Zagallo cross. After two consecutive disappointments — the shocking loss to Uruguay on home soil at the Maracana in 1950 and bowing out to Hungary in the quarterfinals in 1954 — Brazil fulfilled its destiny: champions of the world. As Pele and the rest of the team were in tears, the classy and gracious Stockholm crowd applauded the new world champions. Sportingly, Brazil did a lap of honour around the field carrying a Swedish flag.