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Brazilians bid farewell to soccer legend Pele at Santos Stadium


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The Brazilians said their final goodbyes to soccer giant Pele this week, starting Monday with a 24-hour public vigil at the home stadium of his longtime side Santos.

The team’s oceanfront home nicknamed ‘Peixe’ – ‘fish’ in Portuguese – is expecting a huge influx of fans seeking to honor the ‘king’ of football, who died aged 82 on Thursday years after a long battle with cancer.

The stadium gates will open at 10 a.m. local time (1300 GMT). The coffin bearing the remains of the only player to have won three World Cups will be displayed in the center of the pitch.

Known as Vila Belmiro after the neighborhood it is located in, the black and white stadium has a capacity of 16,000. In the stands, three giant flags could be seen on Sunday, including one bearing the image of Pelé displaying the famous number 10 on his jersey.

Another carried the message “Vive le Roi”; the third simply said “Pélé 82 ans”. Entry to the stadium will be permitted until 10 a.m. Tuesday, officials said. After that, a procession will take place through the streets of Santos, a port city about 75 kilometers (47 miles) from the state capital, Sao Paulo.

The parade will pass the home of Pelé’s mother, 100-year-old Celeste Arantes, who is unaware that her world-famous son has died. “She doesn’t know,” Pele’s sister Maria Lucia do Nascimento told ESPN on Friday. “She’s not conscious.” The procession will end at a cemetery in Santos, where Pelé will be buried in a special mausoleum.

Tributes to the “eternal” star

Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pele is widely regarded as the best player in the beautiful game to date. His death sparked a global outpouring of tributes, with his native Brazil holding three days of national mourning.

He scored 1,283 goals in his 21-year career, most of them at Santos. Wreaths left by his fans have brought a splash of color to Vila Belmiro, which houses a bust and statue of the great footballer.

Silvio Neves Souza, an electrician on vacation from Sao Paulo, took a moment on Sunday to visit the stadium since he will not be able to attend the official ceremony.

“I’m sure a lot of people will come after him, not just old people who saw him play, but also young people,” said the 54-year-old. Elsewhere in the city, banners with Pelé’s face adorn another monument erected in his likeness. “I loved the world with the ball at my feet,” read one sign.

At the headquarters of the Brazilian Football Confederation in Rio de Janeiro, a giant poster bearing the image of Pelé bears the word “eternal”.

And during the Sunday inauguration of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the ceremony began with a minute of silence in memory of Pelé.

Military police in Sao Paulo state, where digital street screens also pay tribute to the prolific striker, said there would be a “robust” rollout for posthumous tributes.

Security will be tightened at Congonhas Airport in Sao Paulo ahead of the expected arrival of a host of athletes, politicians, dignitaries and fans for the aftermath.

‘The king’

Pelé had been hospitalized at the Albert Einstein Hospital for a month until his death on December 29. “We were with him” on December 21, his sister said. “It was very calm, we talked a bit, but I already felt that he felt it, he already knew that he was leaving.”

Born on October 23, 1940, Pelé grew up selling peanuts on the streets to help his impoverished family. He got his famous nickname after mispronouncing Bile, the name of a goalkeeper at Vasco de Sao Lourenço, where his footballer father once played.

Pele exploded onto the scene at age 15, when he started playing professionally with Santos. At just 17, he helped Brazil win their first World Cup, in 1958.

This was followed by World Cup titles in 1962 and 1970. The latter marked the peak of his career, as he played in what many consider to be the greatest team of all time. Pelé had been in increasingly fragile health in recent years.

He remained active on social media, cheering on Brazil at the World Cup in Qatar and consoling the pre-tournament favorites when they were knocked out in the quarter-finals just three weeks before his death.





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