SAO PAULO: With fans worldwide on edge over his health, ailing 82-year-old football legend Pele said he was cheering for the Brazilian national team from hospital as they stormed to a spot in the World Cup quarter-finals.
Considered by many the greatest footballer of all time, Pele was hospitalized in Sao Paulo last Tuesday amid treatment for colon cancer, just as Brazil wage their campaign to win a record-extending sixth World Cup in Qatar.
In a message on Instagram as the “Selecao” prepared for their 4-1 romp over South Korea in the round of 16, Pele said he was watching. “I’ll be rooting for each one of you,” Pele, the only player to win three
World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1970), told the team. “The King” posted a faded color picture of himself as a baby-faced 17-year-old in Stockholm, Sweden, on his way to dazzling the planet with his extraordinary talent in Brazil’s maiden World Cup championship run.
Eight years earlier, seeing his footballer father cry when Brazil lost the 1950 World Cup final at home to Uruguay, Pele had promised to win the trophy one day.
“In 1958, in Sweden, I was walking through the streets thinking about fulfilling the promise I made to my father,” Pele wrote. “I know that many of the national team made similar promises and are also looking for their first World Cup. I want to inspire you, my friends… We are on this journey together. Good luck to our Brazil!” Neymar and team did him proud, scoring a cascade of goals that evoked the “beautiful game” Pele embodied.
After the match, the team returned to the field carrying a banner marked “Pele!”, with a picture of him celebrating Brazil’s 1970 World Cup win. Fans in the stadium could also be seen holding up pictures and messages in Pele’s honor.
“It’s hard to talk about what Pele is going through, but I wish him all the best,” Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar said after the match — in which he converted a penalty, taking him to within one goal of Pele’s all-time Brazil scoring record.