President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva led the tributes Tuesday as Brazil said its final farewell to football legend Pelé, widely regarded as the greatest player of all time.
A flood of fans, politicians and football dignitaries have flocked to pay their respects to the player known as “The King” in the southeastern city of Santos, home to the club where he spent most of his storied career.
Santos FC said more than 230,000 people had attended his 24-hour wake in the Vila Belmiro stadium, where a steady stream of mourners continued straight through the night.
Lula, who took office Sunday in a ceremony that started with a minute’s silence for Pele, flew in by helicopter for the wake, greeting Pelé’s widow, Marcia Cibele Aoki, who was in tears.
Visibly moved, the president and First Lady Rosangela “Janja” da Silva paused before Pelé’s coffin and embraced Aoki and other family members.
“Goodbye to the King. Rest in peace, Pelé,” the president later wrote on Twitter.
Pelé, the only player in history to win three World Cups, scored a world record 1,281 goals during his more than two-decade career with Santos (1956-74), the Brazilian national team and the New York Cosmos (1975-77).
He died Thursday at age 82 after a battle with cancer.
His wake ended with a brief Catholic service, after which 10 state police guards in dress uniform placed the lid on his black casket.
Draped in the flags of Santos and Brazil, the coffin was then hoisted to the top of a bright red fire truck for a massive funeral procession through the streets of Santos, including past the house of Pelé’s mother, 100-year-old Celeste Arantes.
The funeral cortege will end at the port city’s Memorial Cemetery, where a Catholic funeral service will be held before Pelé is interred in a 10-storey mausoleum that holds the Guinness World Record as the tallest cemetery on Earth.
‘Pelé was everything’
Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pelé exploded onto the scene at age 15, when he made his professional debut with Santos.
He went on to win the World Cup three times with Brazil, in 1958, 1962 and 1970.
Tributes have poured in from around the world since his death, with a Who’s Who of current and former football greats hailing his genius for the “beautiful game.”
FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who attended the wake Monday, called Pele “a global icon of football” and said the sport’s governing body would ask all member countries to name a stadium in the player’s honor.
Life-long Santos fan Katia Cruz, 58, who lives a block from the stadium, said she had stood in line for four hours to get into the Vila Belmiro at 1:30 am, attending the wake without her husband because he was “inconsolable.”
“Pele was everything. He was the King. He deserves this tribute,” she said.
She recalled Pele as a “very good, down-to-Earth person” who would always autograph the memorabilia people brought to his house.
“He was humble, a humility today’s players don’t have,” she told AFP.
Other tributes have come in from around Brazil, which held three days of national mourning.
At the headquarters of the Brazilian Football Confederation in Rio, a giant poster with Pele’s image bears the word “eternal.”
Pele had been in fragile health, suffering from kidney problems and then colon cancer.
But he remained active on social media, cheering on Brazil from his hospital bed in Sao Paulo during the World Cup in Qatar and consoling the pre-tournament favorites when they were eliminated in the quarter-finals, three weeks before his death.
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