President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva led the tributes yesterday as Brazil said its final farewell to football legend Pele, widely regarded as the greatest player of all time.
A flood of fans, politicians and football dignitaries have flocked to pay their respects to the player known as “The King” in the southeastern city of Santos, home to the club where he spent most of his storied career.
Santos FC said more than 230 000 people had attended his 24-hour wake in the Vila Belmiro stadium, where a steady stream of mourners continued straight through the night.
Lula, who took office on Sunday in a ceremony that started with a minute’s silence for Pele, flew in by helicopter for the wake, greeting Pele’s widow, Marcia Cibele Aoki, who was in tears.
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Visibly moved, the president and First Lady Rosangela “Janja” da Silva paused before Pele’s coffin and embraced Aoki and other family members.
“Goodbye to the King. Rest in peace, Pele,” the president later wrote on Twitter.
Pele, the only player in history to win three World Cups, scored a world record 1 281 goals during his more than two-decade career with Santos (1956-74), the Brazilian national team and the New York Cosmos (1975-77).
He died on Thursday at age 82 after a battle with cancer.
His wake ended with a brief Catholic service, after which 10 state police guards in dress uniform placed the lid on his black casket.
Draped in the flags of Santos and Brazil, the coffin was then hoisted to the top of a bright red fire truck for a massive funeral procession through the streets of Santos, including past the house of Pele’s mother, 100-year-old Celeste Arantes.
The funeral cortege ended at the port city’s Memorial Cemetrey, where a Catholic funeral service was held before Pele was interred on the 9th floor in a 10-storey mausoleum that holds the Guinness World Record as the tallest cemetery on Earth.
Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pele exploded onto the scene at age 15, when he made his professional debut with Santos.
He went on to win the World Cup three times with Brazil, in 1958, 1962 and 1970.