An emotional Brazil began paying its final respects Monday to football legend Pele with a wake at the stadium where he first took the world’s breath away with his dazzling skill.
Hundreds of fans lined up Monday morning to file through the Vila Belmiro, home to Pele’s longtime club, Santos, where the coffin bearing the remains of “O Rei” (The King) was displayed in the centre of the field.
Pele, a three-time World Cup winner widely considered the greatest footballer of all time, died Thursday at the age of 82 after a long battle with cancer.
Carlos Mota and his 12-year-old son Bernardo travelled more than 500km (300 miles) from Rio de Janeiro to Santos, a southeastern port city in Sao Paulo state, to pay tribute to their late hero.
“My whole childhood was influenced by what Pele did for Brazil, by his World Cup wins. He was a national idol,” Mota, 59, told AFP.
“I never saw Pele play, but I’ve seen the videos. He’s the greatest player who ever walked the Earth,” said Bernardo.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Alejandro Dominguez, head of the South American football confederation CONMEBOL, were among the first to pay their respects at the open coffin, which was displayed under an awning and surrounded by bouquets of white flowers.
The oceanside stadium of the team nicknamed “Peixe” – “fish” in Portuguese – opened its doors at 10am (13:00 GMT) for a 24-hour wake, to be followed by a funeral procession through the streets of Santos on Tuesday, then a private interment at a cemetery about 600m (1,968 feet) from the stadium.
Known as Vila Belmiro after the neighbourhood where it is located, the black-and-white stadium has capacity for 16,000 people.
In the stands, three giant flags were displayed, one with an image of Pele sporting his famous number 10 on his jersey.
Another bore the message “Long live the king”; the third said simply, “Pele 82 years”.
Tuesday’s funeral procession will pass by the house of Pele’s mother, 100-year-old Celeste Arantes, who is still alive but unconscious and unaware that her son has died, according to family.
The procession will end at a cemetery in Santos, where Pele will be interred in a special mausoleum.