It’s that time again! The greatest show on earth is upon us. Ahead of the Fifa World Cup in Russia, we look-back at the 20 tournaments before and the standout aspects from them.

Next up, when Pele shed tears at the end of the final – this time Brazil celebrated along with him as the duck was broken...

Sweden 1958

The King arrived at the grand stage.

Brazil introduced two new players to the World Cup – a bandy-legged little winger called Manuel Francisco dos Santos, known as Garrincha, but more importantly, a 17-year-old called Edson Arantes do Nascimento, or more simply, Pele. With the world watching for the first time, Pele – who didn’t start the tournament but was only added before the knockouts began, mind you – became, arguably, the game’s first global superstar.

And this was the year when the pain of 1950 was erased and an era of global domination began.

Nothing could stand in Brazil’s way. Wales, who along with Northern Ireland made a significant impact in this tournament, did well to limit them to a 1-0 quarter-final win.

France, another revelation, boasted of a star striker of their own in Just Fontaine, who was to set an astonishing World Cup scoring record of 13 goals in a single tournament. But they were swept aside 6-3 in the semi-finals as Pele fired in a hat-trick.

Hosts Sweden rode the support of the home fans into the final by beating holders West Germany in the last four. But in the final they were undone by the boys from Brazil, Pele and Vava grabbing two each in a 5-2 win. And the most famous goal of them all? When Pele lobbed the last defender and volleyed into an empty net.

In what was one of the most feel-good endings to a World Cup, the Swedish crowd gave Pele and the Brazilians a standing ovation, the winning team in turn celebrating with the Swedish flag. The Selecao were winners on and off the pitch. The teenager who was inconsolable in the immediate aftermath would later reveal that the 1950 World Cup final defeat had left his father in tears and he had made a promise to him that he will bring home the trophy.

“My first thoughts were about my family,” Pele wrote in his autobiography. “Did they know that we were champions? I wanted to speak to my parents but there were no telephones, so I kept on saying, ‘I’ve got to tell my dad, I’ve got to tell my dad.’

“I only managed to speak to him in the following days, using an international radio. I can remember saying things like: ‘Did you see me with the Swedish king? Over,’ and “I shook the king’s hand. Over.’ ”

Stats and trivia

  • Brazil became the first ever team to win the football World Cup outside their own continent.
  • At 17 years and 249 days, Pele is the youngest player to have played in a World Cup Final
  • For the first time, the Fifa World Cup received international television coverage. (Except in Eastern Europe because of a system compatibility issue)
  • For the first and only time till date, all four British nations (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) were part of the World Cup, and this being the only time Wales have participated so far. 
  • 13: Number of goals scored by Just Fontaine in the tournament, and it is a World Cup record that stands till date. Did you know he was only starting because of an injury to first-choice Rene Bliard? And decades later, he still holds a record that might never be broken.
  • A mighty force in the previous edition where they (surprisingly) finished runners-up, Hungary were able to retain only four players for the 1958 edition, with many of the others choosing to flee the country after the Russian invasion of 1956. 
  • FIVE: Number of changes to the starting line-up for Brazil between the first and final matches of the World Cup, the most ever for a world cup winning-side.
  • Tournament top-scorer: Just Fontaine (France) 13 goals 
  • Total number of goals scored in the tournament: 126 (3.6 goals per match)

For your viewing pleasure

The final between Sweden and Brazil (Pele)


The legend of Pele is born...

A goal for the ages...


Official poster


With AFP and inputs