The open funeral ceremony in Brazil for soccer legend Pele began on Monday, which will continue for 24 hours at the stadium of his most famous club, Santos.
The club’s stadium, nicknamed “Pixie”, which means “fish” in Portuguese, and located on the ocean, witnessed a huge influx of fans who came to honor the “king” of football, after his death at the age of 82, Thursday, after a long struggle with cancer.
The body of the only three-time World Cup winner was displayed in the center of the stadium.
Carlos Mota, and his 12-year-old son Bernardo, traveled more than 500 kilometers from Rio de Janeiro to Santos, a port city in the southeast of Sao Paulo state, in order to pay homage to Pele.
“My whole childhood was influenced by what Pele did for Brazil with his World Cup victories. He was a national symbol,” Mota, 59, told AFP.
His young son Bernardo commented, “I’ve never seen Pele play, but I’ve seen the videos. He’s the greatest player ever.”
FIFA President Gianni Infantino and CONMEBOL President Alejandro Dominguez were among the first to pay their respects at the open funeral.
“We are here with great sadness, Pele is eternal,” said Infantino. He is a global icon of football.”
The FIFA President also called on all countries of the world to name a stadium after the Brazilian football legend Pele, and said in this regard: “We will ask every country in the world to name one of its football stadiums after Pele.”
The black and white stadium that hosts the funeral of the “king” is known as Villa Belmero, after the name of the neighborhood in which it is located, and it can accommodate 16,000 people.
In the stands, three giant banners were seen on Sunday, one of which featured a picture of Pele wearing the famous number 10 shirt. On another, he wrote, “Long live the King,” and on the third, “Pele, 82.”
Officials said entry to the stadium would be allowed until 10 a.m. on Tuesday.
After that, the procession will wind through the streets of Santos, a port city 75 kilometers (47 miles) from the state capital, São Paulo. The funeral procession will pass through the home of Pele’s mother, 100-year-old Celeste Arantes, although she is unaware of her son’s death.
Pele’s sister, Maria Lucia do Nascimento, told ESPN on Friday that her mother “doesn’t know. She’s not conscious.”
The procession will end at a cemetery in Santos, where Pele will be buried in a private mausoleum.
salute to the “eternal” star
Edson Arantes do Nascimento, who was later dubbed Pele to stardom, has been described by many football fans as the best player in the history of the game.
His death drew hundreds of thousands of people, with Brazil observing three days of national mourning.
Pele scored 1,283 goals in a 21-year career, most of which he scored with Santos.
Wreaths left by his fans bring a splash of color to Villa Belmero, which is home to two statues, one bust showing his face and the other full, of the football prodigy.
Silvio Nieves Souza, an electrician from Sao Paulo, came Sunday to visit the stadium because he will not be able to attend the state funeral.
“I’m sure a lot of people will come to the stadium, not only the old people who saw him play, but also the young people,” said the 54-year-old.
Elsewhere in the city, banners with Pele’s face decorate another memorial to him.
One of the banners read, “I loved the world with the ball at my feet.”
At the headquarters of the Brazilian Football Confederation in Rio de Janeiro, a giant poster with Pele’s image bears the word “Eternal”.
At the inauguration ceremony of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, on Sunday, the ceremony began with a minute of silence in memory of Pele.
The military police in the state of Sao Paulo, where the digital screens placed in the streets greeted the historic player, said that there would be a “strong” deployment of its elements to coincide with the occasion.
Security will be beefed up at Congonhas Airport in Sao Paulo ahead of the expected arrival of crowds of athletes, politicians, dignitaries and fans for the funeral.
Pele was admitted to Albert Einstein Hospital for a month, until his death on December 29.