An emotional Brazil began paying its final tribute to football legend Pele on Monday with a vigil at the stadium where he first took the world’s breath away with his dazzling skill.
Hundreds of fans lined up on Monday morning to walk through the Vila Belmiro, home of Santos, Pele’s old club, where the coffin containing the remains of “O Rei” (the King) was displayed in the center of the pitch.
Pele, a three-time World Cup winner widely regarded as the greatest footballer of all time, passed away on Thursday at the age of 82 after a long battle with cancer.
Carlos Mota and his 12-year-old son Bernardo traveled more than 500 km (300 mi) from Rio de Janeiro to Santos, a southeastern port city in Sao Paulo state, to pay tribute to their late hero.
“My whole childhood was influenced by what Pele did for Brazil, by his World Cup victories. He was a national idol,” Mota, 59, told AFP.
“I’ve never seen Pele play, but I’ve seen the videos. He’s the best player to ever walk the face of the earth,” said Bernardo.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino and Alejandro Dominguez, head of the South American football confederation CONMEBOL, were among the first to pay their respects at the open casket, which was under a canopy and surrounded by bouquets of white flowers.
The team’s ocean stadium nicknamed “Peixe” – “fish” in Portuguese – opened its doors at 10am (1pm GMT) for a 24-hour vigil, followed by a funeral procession through the streets of Santos on Tuesday. then a private funeral in a cemetery about 600 meters from the stadium.
The black and white stadium, known as Vila Belmiro after the neighborhood where it is located, has a capacity of 16,000 people.
Three giant flags were displayed in the stands, one depicting Pele wearing his famous number 10 on his jersey.
Another carried the message “Long live the king”; the third simply said, “Pele 82 years old”.
Tuesday’s funeral procession passes the home of Pele’s mother, 100-year-old Celeste Arantes, who is alive but unconscious and unaware that her son has died, the family said.
The procession ends at a cemetery in Santos, where Pele will be interred in a special mausoleum.