On June 29, 1958, Brazil defeats host nation Sweden 5-2 to win its first World Cup. Brazil came into the tournament as a favorite, and did not disappoint, thrilling the world with their spectacular play, which was often referred to as the “beautiful game.”
The star of the tournament was an undersized midfielder named Edson Arondes do Nascimento, known the world over as Pele. Edson, the son of a professional footballer called Dodhino, was named for the American inventor, Thomas Edison. His mother, having watched her husband struggle to earn money in the game, discouraged Pele from playing football. Pele’s will won out, and at 14 he was discovered by de Brito, a former Brazilian team member, who took the young scorer under his wing. Pele earned his first cap with the national team at 16, and made his debut on the international stage at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden at 17 years old.
In that year’s Cup, Pele did not make an appearance until Brazil’s third group play match against the Soviet Union, in which he set up a goal for Vava. His first goal came in the quarterfinal against Wales; it was the only goal Brazil scored in a 1-0 win. It was in the semifinal against France, though, that Pele truly came into his own. As the crowd at Rasunda Stadium listened to the Sweden-West Germany game on their radios, Pele put on a show of offensive brilliance against the second best team in the tournament. He scored three goals from his left side, and left the French team dumbfounded at their inability to contain a 17 year old. Pele and Vava scored two goals each in the final. Upon receiving the Jules Rimet Cup as the best team in the world, the entire team wept.
Brazil went on to win the World Cup again in 1966 and 1970, which gave them the right to retain the Jules Rimet Cup permanently as the first country to win three World Cups. In 1999, the International Olympic Committee honored Pele along with 10 others as one of the best athletes of the century.