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Apr 18, 2006

World Cup 1958 - Hosts Sweden

If 1954 saw the final hurrah of Hungary, one of football's greatest ever teams, 1958 was the beginning of another team's dominance of the World Cup tournament. Brazil and the World Cup are inextricably linked and it was in Sweden that this bond was created.

The presence of international television cameras for the first time made this tournament a watershed and in a 17-year-old Brazilian, the game had its first and probably greatest star. Pele was not in the Brazilian side at the beginning of the tournament but by its conclusion football had its first international pin-up.

Another facet of this tournament was the appearance of all four home nations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and of the four it was the two smaller nations who most impressed.

The Irish were managed by Peter Doherty, who in Danny Blanchflower, had a superb lieutenant on the field. Together Doherty and Blanchflower gave the world the free-kick wall as their team reached the quarter-final stage before falling to the French.

The Welsh, led by the amazing talents of John Charles, reached the same stage only to lose out to Brazil and, more pertinently, Pele.

Scotland's campaign was as disastrous as that four years earlier while England, considerably weakened by the loss of Tommy Taylor and Roger Byrne in the Munich Air disaster and with Bobby Charlton, still traumatised, a non-playing member of the squad, lost out in a play-off to the Soviet Union.

An English presence in the tournament was retained by George Raynor, the Yorkshire-born coach of Sweden. He led a team featuring Nils Liedholm and Gunnar Gren, both veterans of their country's victory in the 1948 Olympics but now stars of the lucrative Italian league.

Brazil, playing a revolutionary 4-2-4 system, already had in Didi, a mercurial midfield talent, in Vava a line-leading, goalscoring centre-forward and in Djalma and Nilton Santos two legendary half-backs.

But with the addition in later games of Pele and Garrincha, an amazing winger with dribbling skills comparable to Stanley Matthews, they were undoubtedly the team to beat.

In the group stage they were prolific in front of goal, and although England held them to a goalless draw, they were heavily fancied to thrash Wales in the last eight.

But the Welsh, sadly lacking the injured John Charles, made them fight all the way. Pele, starting only his second game, and at just 17, the youngest player to grace the finals tournament, scored a deflected goal past superb keeper Jack Kelsey.

Pele himself would describe it as the most important goal he would ever score.

The semi-finals saw them face France, who for once had put up a performance befitting their status as tournament founders. Just Fontaine was their record-breaking striker (he scored 13 goals in the tournament, though four of these came in the third-place game).

His bullets were supplied by Raymond Kopa, an inside-forward who plied his trade for Real Madrid and who, until Michel Platini, was regarded as France's greatest-ever player.

But with Pele now into his stride, the French had no answer as the young star scored a hat-trick in an easy 5-2 win.

So the final would be a battle of South American style and the best that the far more athletic European game had to offer.

Before the game George Raynor predicted that if the Brazilians were to go a goal behind then they would 'panic all over the show'.

His prediction was tested. It failed. Liedholm put the Swedes a goal up after just four minutes but just five minutes later Vava headed in a Garrincha cross. The trick was repeated on the half hour. And after half-time Pele grabbed the match by the scruff of the neck.

The goal which truly created the Pele legend came on 55 minutes. A lofted ball was chested down, hooked over a defender and projected into the bottom left corner with an unerring volley.

The trophy's destination was confirmed after right-winger Zagallo followed up his corner to make it four after 68 minutes. Simonsson grabbed a consolation before Pele headed in a Zagallo cross.

The Jules Rimet trophy was Brazil's. Records had been smashed in the tournament - Fontaine's goal haul, Pele's youth and for the first time a team from the Americas had won on foreign soil.

And in Pele, who shed tears of joy as the Brazilians carried the trophy and national flag around the pitch, world football had found its biggest star.