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Pele's greatest career moments: 1,000th goal, 1970 World Cup and stopping a civil war

3:14 AM MYT 30/12/2022
Pele
Brazil and Santos legend Pele died on Thursday. GOAL remembers the greatest moments of his incredible career.

No player did more to popularise football's reputation as the beautiful game than the immortal Pele.

The only male or female player to win three World Cups, the free-scoring forward also spearheaded one of the greatest club side's footballing history.

His death leaves a devastating void in global sport, and below, GOAL recalls some of the standout moments of a once-in-a-lifetime career.

  • Pele 1958

    A goal on his debut... twice

    Pele made his professional debut all the way back in 1956. Aged just 15, the legendary forward lined up for Santos - he had only signed a few months earlier following a successful trial - against Corinthians Santo Andre.

    Pele scored in the 7-1 victory, kickstarting a golden era at the club that would span 18 years. It wasn't his best strike, with the teenager simply tapping home a rebound in the box.

    Then, in July 1957, Pele opened his international scoring account - against Argentina no less. He was far from an established name in the Santos side at this stage, but impressed Brazil manager Sylvio Pirillo in a friendly organised to raise money for Sao Paulo's new stadium.

    A baby-faced Pele still managed to find the net at the Maracana, making it 2-1 to the Selecao.

  • Pele 1958 World Cup

    Birth of a superstar

    Pele introduced himself to a global football audience at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. After featuring just once in the group stage, his tournament exploded in the quarter-final stage, when he burst through the Wales backline to secure a 1-0 win and his side's progression.

    Things got even better in the semi-finals when Pele's hat trick helped Brazil down the free-scoring Just Fontaine and France.

    And his legend was secured in the final when he grabbed a brace as the Selecao smashed hosts Sweden 5-2. His first goal in that game was typical of his brilliance. After taking down a deep cross in the box he dinked the ball over brutish Swedish defender Bengt Gustavsson, before watching it drop down from a great height and finding the bottom corner on the volley.

  • Pele Santos

    Continental champion

    While Pele's relentless touring schedule prevented him from winning the Copa America with Brazil - he only appeared in one tournament (1959) and managed to secure the Golden Boot - the forward did taste continental glory at club level.

    In 1962, with the scores level after two legs in the Copa Libertadores final against Penarol, Pele carried Santos to victory in a Playoff contested on neutral ground at Estadio Monumental. He grabbed a brace, including a game-changing strike just after half time, as Santos earned their first ever South American title.

    A year later, the Alvinegro retained their crown, with Pele scoring in the final against Boca Juniors.

    Victory in these two games booked Santos a place in the Intercontinental Cup against European opposition. They made light work of their opponents both years, first beating Benfica - Pele scored five goals over the two legs - and then getting the better of AC Milan in another playoff.

  • Five in a row

    Throughout the 1960s Pele spearheaded Santos' greatest ever side, appropriately nicknamed Os Santasticos.

    The Dream Team's list of accomplishments is endless, and their diminutive attacking fulcrum was always at the centre of things.

    Winning five Serie A titles in a row between 1961 and 1965 was one of Santos' crowning achievements, with Pele securing the top scorer award in three of these seasons.

    1962 also saw Lula's charges secure the 'first treble in the world'. During this whirlwind year, Pele and Co. won the Copa Libertadores, Campeonato Paulista and Taca Brasil. Not bad.

  • Pele fans

    Stopping a civil war?

    As Pele's star rose, Santos began to prioritise lucrative international tours over silverware, a strange concept to get your head around from a modern perspective.

    On one of these overseas trips, the Santasticos found themselves in Nigeria when the country was in the midst of a brutal civil war with secessionist state Biafra.

    When Pele and his teammates rolled into Lagos, legend has it that the guns stopped for 48 hours, so both sides of the conflict could witness the Super Eagles play out a 2-2 draw with the touring side. Needless to say, Pele scored both goals.

    Nearly 60 years later, the truth of this story is still disputed, with some claiming that the fighting had actually been paused a fortnight earlier. Others even recall gunfire being heard just outside the stadium.

    Pele himself could not even recall what happened, which is perhaps understandable considering he was racking up over 100 club games per year during his touring peak.

  • Pele 1000 goals

    1,000 goals!

    Due to the hectic nature of his touring schedule and arguments over what constitutes a 'competitive game', the exact number of goals Pele scored is disputed.

    However, on November 19, 1969, fans of Santos and Vasco da Gama jointly gave Pele a standing ovation after he notched what was recognised as his 1000th professional goal. Incredibly, Pele was not even 30 when he reached this milestone, which puts his otherworldly ability to find the back of the net into some sort of context.

    Estimates of how many he scored by the time he hung up his boots vary considerably, with the man himself claiming he netted 1,283 goals back in 2015.

  • World Cup immortality

    Pele's 1970 World Cup contained enough drama and intrigue for a feature-length film. After injury tainted his 1962 winner's medal and Brazil fell short in 1966, it felt like he had unfinished business on the international stage.

    However, he very nearly did not feature at all. After being kicked around by defenders four years earlier, he had vowed to not play in another World Cup, but he changed his mind in 1969 and helped the Selecao qualify for the showpiece event in Mexico.

    It was one of football's most significant sliding doors moments with Pele going on to put in a legacy-defining performance.

    There are too many iconic moments to list here: the battle with Bobby Moore, nearly scoring from the halfway line against Czechoslovakia, his outrageous dummy that humiliated the Uruguayan goalkeeper, but in the end the World Cup would have one defining image that should out above the rest.

    In the final against Italy, he rose high at the back post, heading home Rivellino's cross and immediately leaping into the arms of Jairzinho. The picture immortalised the World Cup's greatest ever player, as Brazil went on to secure a famous 4-1 victory.

  • Pele New York Cosmos

    Living in America

    Pele finished off his career by igniting an American soccer explosion. He was initially reluctant to sign for New York Cosmos, such was his strength of feeling for Santos, who he was still turning out in exhibition games for in the early 1970s.

    Eventually though, Pele was convinced and penned a big-money contract with the aim of reinvigorating the ailing North American Soccer League.

    In this regard, he was successful in the short term, with the likes of Carlos Alberto, Bobby Moore and Johan Cruyff making similar trips across the Atlantic in the twilight of their careers.

    On the pitch, the move had a positive effect for his new team too as they won the Soccer Bowl in 1977. Shortly after, Pele's American adventure and footballing career had a fitting end, in the form of a farewell exhibition game between Cosmos and Santos.