World Cup final, Estadio Azteca, Mexico City
June 21, 1970

Imagine a sports fan going to see his first boxing match, and having it turn out to be the Thrilla in Manila, or having his first basketball game be watching Michael Jordan in the NBA Finals. It was just that way for me with soccer, or football as it is known to the rest of the world. The first soccer game I ever covered was the memorable 1966 World Cup final between England and Germany, and it hooked me on the sport. But if you had asked me who the world's greatest athelete was before the 1970 final between Brazil and Italy, I would have answered Muhammed Ali without hesitation. By the end of that glorious day, I wasn't so sure. I had just watched Edson Arantes do Nasciemento, known throughout the world as Pele, lead Brazil to a stunning 4-1 victory. He was already the top player in the world's most popular sport, having led Brazil to World Cup championships in both 1958 and 1962, and this game would validate forever his status as a worldwide icon. On the sportıs biggest stage, he scored an amazing goal and had two assists, and when the game ended, an ecstatic Pele (by now stripped to only his jock strap) was carried from the stadium on the shoulders of the deliriously happy Brazilian fans. It's hard to describe the thrill of seeing this beautiful, graceful, sporting genius do his thing. For me, only Ali and Jordan come close to being as individually spectacular.


The Best of Leifer
The Best of Leifer

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