Pele burst onto the World Stage in the 1958 World Cup, with the Santos youngster a last minute addition to the Brazil that went all the way to winning the trophy. The 17 year old Brazilian striker had never scored for Brazil before the World Cup, but managed to open his account against Wales in an iconic quarter final match in Gothenburg.
Pelé had only made his World Cup debut in Brazil’s final group stage clash – a must-win game against the Soviet Union (who now are known as Russia) The youngster suitably impressed enough to earn a spot in the starting side for the Wales clash, where he would face a plucky side appearing their first World Cup, led by talismanic Juventus legend John Charles.
Pele would score his first ever Brazil game in a 1-0 victory over Wales, who were missing Charles due to injury. The rest of the squad, led by Manchester United coach Jimmy Murphy, impressed in the tournament, remaining undefeated in the group stage until they lost to Brazil in the knockout round.
Pele spoke about the game in his autobiography “Pele: The Autobiography”, claiming that Wales were “forceful in defence” and played well as a team despite having one star player in John Charles. He claimed they worked “as a real unit” and were unlucky to be sunk by Pele’s maiden goal for Brazil.
“That evening we learnt that our next opponent [In the 1958 World Cup Quarter Finals] would be Wales, who had brilliantly beaten Hungary 2-1 in their play-off to finish second in their group. Some were surprised that they’d come so far, but they had some decent players – including the great John Charles, who unfortunately for them was injured for our match – and worked as a real unit”
“The Wales game took place only two days after my first [match in the tournament]. Jack Kelsey, the Wales goalie, was in great form, and his team were forceful in defence. The first half ended 0-0 and Feola [then Brazil manager] gave us a rousing locker room talk. In the second half I received a ball from Didi with my back to the goal, chested it on my right foot, turned past the defender and scored. It was my first goal in the World Cup – and it was the winning goal of the match”.
The goal would prove crucial and would be the first of 77 incredible goals for Pele for Brazil. He went on to score a hat-trick in the semi final against France, before netting a brace against hosts Sweden in an exciting final that ended 5-2. This earned Brazil their first World Cup ever, making up for the crippling loss they suffered 8 years ago on home soil to Uruguay.
Wales did have some representation in the Semi Finals – Welsh referee Benjamin Griffiths refereed the France-Brazil game in which Pele scored his hat-trick. Ever professional, he did not let his home nations loss affect his concentration, although the country would always think what would have happened if John Charles had been fit for the Wales vs Brazil match.
Pele would go on to score 77 goals for Brazil, an amount that has only been equalled by Neymar. He is the only footballer to win 3 World Cups (1958,1962 and 1970) and will go down in history as the greatest football player of all time.
Want to read more about Wales Football history? Check out the links below or tell us in the comments if you think Wales would have won if John Charles had played in the match.
- When Brian Clough Almost Took Charge of Wales
- When Wales Dared To Dream At EURO 2016
- Wales EURO 2016 Team – Where are they now?
Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.