STOCKHOLM: The shirt is a different shade of yellow but the face and the voice on the pitch at Stockholm’s Rasunda stadium are unmistakable: “I remember everything,” Pele told reporters as he returned to the scene of his first great triumph with Brazil.
On the same pitch, the then 17-year-old Pele inspired Brazil to a 5-2 victory over hosts Sweden in the 1958 World Cup final, and the two sides meet again Wednesday as Rasunda stages its final international match.
To mark the occasion, players from both the 1958 sides returned to the scene of the first of Brazil’s five World Cup victories and the tournament which Pele says put Brazilian football on the world map.
“The biggest memory of being here is that Brazil was unknown until we won the World Cup,” said Pele, clad in a yellow Sweden shirt with the number 58 on the back, rather than his traditional Brazilian number 10.
“It’s still alive, this feeling of helping Brazil. Brazil started here.
“Before 1958 nobody knew Brazil – even the name on the flag was wrong and [player Mario] Zagallo asked them to fix it.”
That soon changed when Pele hit a hat trick in the semifinal victory over France and a brace in the final as the Brazilians won the hearts of football fans around the world.
“Brazil was playing so good in some games that everybody was cheering for Brazil,” Pele said.
Sweden right-winger Kurt Hamrin, now 77, said his memories of the game had faded over time but he still remembered his opposite number, Manuel Francisco dos Santos, otherwise known as “Garrincha.”
“I remember Garrincha hitting two crosses in that game and generally doing all the things he was great at – he was without a doubt the best right-winger in the world.”
Pele’s fellow Brazilian forward Mazzola told Reuters that there was far less pressure on the 1958 team compared to their modern counterparts. “When we left Brazil nobody believed in us, and I remember that until the semifinal nobody believed in us. This gave more tranquillity to the players.
“Brazil today can’t lose. At that time, there wasn’t that pressure and we came here calm, and we won.”
Brazil’s Olympic side were criticised for losing Saturday’s gold-medal match against Mexico at the London Games. Despite their illustrious history, Brazil have never won the Olympic title.
With Brazil due to stage the World Cup finals in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, the pressure on their football team is unlikely to diminish.
Sweden’s new national stadium, the Friends arena in Stockholm, is close to completion and will open with a game against England in November.
Rasunda is to be demolished after the domestic season ends in November but the stadium, and in particular the 1958 final, will always retain a special place in Brazilian and Swedish football.
Pele said the Swedish FA had promised their Brazilian counterparts some artifacts from the old stadium.
“That way, for Brazilians, it will never die,” he said.