Pele’s top four moments: World Cup and national service

Story Highlights

Pele is the only player to win three World Cups

Won his first title in Sweden at the age of 17

The last time he went to Mexico was in 1970


“So maybe if I wasn’t a football player, I guess I’d compose and sing.”

Fresh out of his most recent biopic, Pele: The Birth of a Legend, the only three-time World Cup winner sat down with CNN’s Don Riddle to rank his most memorable accomplishments:

1: Brazilian national team debut, 1957 Roca Cup

According to, the most famous player in Brazilian history made his debut on 7 July 1957 in a two-day friendly against Argentina.

Despite Brazil’s 2-1 loss, the 16-year-old came off the bench and scored the team’s only goal in the 32nd minute. Three days later, Brazil avenged their old rivals with a 2-0 win thanks to goals from Pele and Mazzola.

“I got drafted, which was amazing,” Bailey recalled. “It’s like a dream.”

READ: Pele biopic brings Brazilians to tears

2: Win Brazil’s first World Cup title, Sweden in 1958

“When we got to Sweden, no one knew what Brazil was. They knew Argentina… Uruguay. It was a surprise for us,” recalls Pele – who became a World Cup star at 17 years and seven months. The youngest player until Northern Ireland’s Norman Whiteside broke the record in 1982.

“I thought the whole world knew about Brazil, but nothing in Sweden,” he added.

“Then when we won the World Cup, everyone knew about Brazil. I think that was the most important thing I gave to my country, because after that World Cup we were known.”

READ: The footballer Pele who inspired Andy Warhol

Pele scored six goals in four games, including two in a 5-2 win over Sweden in the final.

Pele’s first goal, one of the greatest in World Cup history, flicked the ball past a defender and volleyed home, while the second was a looping header over the keeper , which ends the game.

“After the fifth goal, I want to applaud,” Swedish opponent Sigge Parling said after the game, according to

3: Winning the South American Military Championships with the Brazilian Army in Rio de Janeiro in 1959

“Very few people knew,” recalls Bailey. “When I came back from Sweden, I was a world champion; I was 18 and I was drafted to do my military service in Brazil.”

Pele documented the moment in his 2007 book Pele: An Autobiography, in which he wrote that even for a famous footballer, the only way out of the army was to fake an injury, Santos’ director of football laughed it off.

READ: Pele to auction off $600,000 World Cup replica

“Are you mad?” they asked. “You just won the World Cup. The whole country knows you’re a shining example of fitness. If you weren’t so high-profile, there might be a way. But not you. If any 18-year-old Brazilian has to do military service, it’s you.”

“Then I went to the army and we won the game,” said Pele, who beat Argentina 2-1 in the final (although Pele received a red card, the first of his career.) “The pair It was very important to me; now I understand that I have to do my job.”

4: Won the 1970 World Cup in Mexico

Given his achievements ahead of his approaching 30th birthday, Pele considered retiring before the 1970 Championship – but changed his mind at the last minute after telling his club side Santos of his plans.

“I said Santos was the champion and I was going to retire,” he recalls. “Then I said ‘no, I’m going to the World Cup. This will be my last World Cup, may God give me another chance to play well.'”

Forced into World Cup qualifiers as Brazil failed to defend their title in 1966, Pele scored six goals in six appearances.

But he saved his best performance for the World Cup itself, with four goals earning him the tournament’s man of the match award and assisting Carlos Alberto in the final against Italy – a One of the greatest goals in World Cup history. (Young teammate Jairzinho scored seven times.)

“We won the World Cup and I think in my sporting career (that’s the pinnacle), there’s no question,” he said.

Italian defender Tarcisio Burgnich summed up Pele’s magic aptly: “I told myself before the game that he was skinny like everyone else. But I was wrong.”

Bailey’s moment No The score was also down in World Cup history – England goalkeeper Gordon Banks’ incredible block on the Brazilian’s powerful header is widely regarded as the greatest save of all time.

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