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'The King': Brazil says its final farewell to Pelé

Santos FC said some 250,000 people had attended his 24-hour wake in the Vila Belmiro stadium, where mourners continued arriving straight through the night.

BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT LUIZ Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva led the tributes today as the country said its final farewell to late football legend Pelé, widely regarded as the greatest player of all time.

A flood of fans, politicians and football dignitaries turned out to pay their respects to the player known as The King in the southeastern city of Santos, home to the club where Pelé, who died last week at age 82, spent most of his storied career.

Santos FC said some 250,000 people had attended his 24-hour wake in the Vila Belmiro stadium, where mourners continued arriving straight through the night.

That was followed by a massive funeral procession, as Pelé’s casket — draped in the black-and-white flag of Santos and the green-and-yellow one of Brazil — was placed atop a firetruck for a final parade through the city, including an emotional stop in front of the house where his 100-year-old mother still lives.

Lula, who took office on Sunday in a ceremony that started with a minute’s silence for Pelé, was visibly moved as he and First Lady Rosangela Janja da Silva paused before the coffin at the wake and embraced the player’s widow, Marcia Cibele Aoki, who was in tears.

“Goodbye to the King. Rest in peace, Pelé,” the president wrote on Twitter.

Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pelé is the only player in history to win three World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1970).

He scored a world record 1,281 goals during his more than two-decade career with Santos (1956-74), the New York Cosmos (1975-77) and the Brazilian national team.

He died last Thursday after a battle with cancer.

Tributes have poured in from around the world since his death, with current and former football greats hailing his genius for the “beautiful game”, including Brazil star Neymar, France’s Kylian Mbappe and Argentina’s Lionel Messi.

The wake ended this morning with a brief Catholic service, after which 10 state police guards in dress uniform placed the lid on Pelé’s black casket.

A bright red firetruck then transported the coffin through the city, as huge crowds of fans, some in tears, lined the streets and gathered on balconies to say a last goodbye, chanting “1,000 goals, only Pelé!”.

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The longest stop was outside the beige house where Pelé’s mother, Celeste Arantes, still lives.

Dona Celeste, as she is known, has cognitive difficulties, and is unaware her world-famous son has died, according to the family. But Pelé’s sister, Maria Lucia, who lives with her, clasped her hands and tearfully bowed her head to the massive crowd in gratitude, surrounded by family on the house’s balcony.

The funeral procession ended at the port city’s Memorial Cemetery, near the stadium, where a private funeral service will be held before Pelé is interred.

The cemetery said Pelé’s embalmed body would rest in its coffin, displayed in the middle of a 200-square-meter (2,150-square-foot) replica football stadium with artificial turf, surrounded by gilded images from his glory days.

 © – AFP 2023

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