By MAURICIO SAVARESE
SANTOS, Brazil (AP) — Thousands of mourners began paying their respects to Pelé in a solemn procession past his coffin at the Vila Belmiro Stadium in his hometown of Santos on Monday.
The Brazilian soccer great died Thursday after a battle with cancer. The three-time World Cup winner was 82.
Pelé’s coffin was placed on the field where he scored some of his best goals. Mourners walked past his casket in the midfield area of the 16,000-seat stadium outside Sao Paulo. A Catholic Mass will be celebrated there Tuesday morning before his burial at a nearby cemetery.
Vila Belmiro was decorated with Brazilian flags and No. 10 shirts that became popular after Pelé started wearing them for Santos and Brazil.
The stands were filling up with bouquets of flowers placed by mourners and sent by clubs and star players — Neymar and Ronaldo among them — from around the world as loudspeakers played a song named “Eu sou Pelé” (“I am Pelé”) that was recorded by the Brazilian himself.
Fans arrived early to honor Edson Arantes do Nascimento, globally known as Pelé.
Among them was FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who told journalists that every country should name a stadium after Pelé.
“I am here with a lot of emotion, sadness, but also with a smile because he gave us so many smiles,” Infantino said. “As FIFA, we will pay a tribute to the ‘King’ and we ask the whole world to observe a minute of silence.”
Another fan and friend in line was Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes.
“It is a very sad moment, but we are now seeing the real meaning of this legendary player to our country,” Mendes told journalists. “My office has shirts signed by Pelé, a picture of him as a goalkeeper, also signed by him. DVDs, photos, a big collection of him.”
Mendes also said Pelé was a humble man despite his global fame, and that he deserves every tribute.
Pelé’s casket will be ushered through the streets of Santos before his burial. Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and other dignitaries are expected to attend.
Pelé had undergone treatment for colon cancer since 2021. The medical center where he had been hospitalized said he died of multiple organ failure as a result of the cancer.
Pelé led Brazil to World Cup titles in 1958, 1962 and 1970 and remains one of the team’s all-time leading scorers with 77 goals. Neymar tied Pelé’s record during this year’s World Cup in Qatar.
Source: The Associated Press.