Brazilians throng to bid final farewell to soccer legend Pelé at daylong wake

Thousands flock to Santos in honor of one of the country's most cherished sports stars

FIFA President Gianni Infantino (center right) attends the wake for late soccer legend Pelé at the Vila Belmiro stadium in Santos, Brazil. Photo by Sebastiao Moreira/EPA-EFE
FIFA President Gianni Infantino (center right) attends the wake for late soccer legend Pelé at the Vila Belmiro stadium in Santos, Brazil. Photo by Sebastiao Moreira/EPA-EFE

Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Thousands of Brazilians lined up Monday to pay their final respects to beloved soccer icon Pelé, whose coffin was placed in the center of Vila Belmiro Stadium outside Sao Paulo.

The home field of the Brazilian soccer club Santos is where the three-time World Cup winner first rose to fame in the 1950s.


The 24-hour public wake follows Pelé's death Thursday at age 82.

The passing of the star has left Brazil without of one of its most cherished icons whose exploits on the pitch made him a favorite son of Brazil for more than seven decades.

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Throngs of mourners began gathering outside the stadium early Monday, with many fans dressed in No. 10 Pelé jerseys, some which were autographed by the late soccer star.

Newly inaugurated Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and FIFA President Gianni Infantino attended the wake alongside many other dignitaries and some of the world's most notable soccer players.

Government workers set up miles of fencing to help guide the immense crowd while other teams decked the 16,000-seat stadium with banners and posters giving tributes to the late sports legend.


National flags were lowered to half-staff in honor of the man who played more than 600 games and scored more than 600 goals for Santos during an historic career.

Pelé's coffin was delivered to the stadium early Monday from Albert Einstein hospital in Sao Paulo, where he died after a long battle with colon cancer.

Mourners filed into the stadium along a fenced walkway that led to his open casket. Pelé's face was covered in a sheer white veil, and his head and body were wreathed in white flowers.

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On Tuesday, Pelé's remains will be carried through the streets of Santos and past the home of his 100-year-old mother, who was also said to be in declining health.

The family plans to hold a private funeral followed by a burial at the Memorial Necropole Ecumenica cemetery in Santos.

Pelé's cancer was discovered when he had surgery to remove a tumor from his colon last year. He was admitted to the hospital Nov. 29 for a respiratory infection and was re-evaluated for the chemotherapy treatment. Pelé also dealt with COVID-19 while hospitalized, and doctors discovered his cancer had spread.

Pelé, whose real name was Edson Arantes do Nascimento, was a force who led Brazil to World Cup championships in 1958, 1962 and 1970. He is still the only individual FIFA player to have won the title three times.


He remains one of the most prolific scorers the game has ever seen, with nearly 1,300 goals over his professional career, including 12 goals scored in 14 career appearances at the World Cup tournament.

The 2022 World Cup tournament, which ended in December, featured several tributes to the aging star.

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