Monday, July 15, 2024

Brazil says goodbye to late football great Mario Zagallo

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Brazilians paid their last respects on Sunday to football legend Mario Zagallo, a four-time World Cup-winning player and coach who died at age 92 and was the final member of one of the country’s greatest generations in the beloved sport.

A steady stream of mourners — dressed in black, and the yellow of the Brazilian national team or the colors of the numerous clubs where Zagallo played and coached — filed past his coffin at the headquarters of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), whose facade sported a giant banner in his honor.

On display near the lace-draped coffin were football-mad Brazil’s record five World Cup trophies. Zagallo, a diminutive left-wing known for his tactical brilliance, had a hand in winning four of them, more than anyone in football history.

The “Professor,” as he was known, played alongside Pele in Brazil’s 1958 and 1962 World Cup-winning teams.

He then coached the 1970 world champion side starring Pele — considered by many the greatest team in history — and served as assistant coach when the “Selecao” repeated the feat in 1994.

“We’ve lost a sporting legend,” said Bebeto, a member of the 1994 team.

“He was my second father,” he told journalists — a phrase echoed by fellow World Cup champion Cafu (1994 and 2002).

Others paying their respects included former Brazil coach Tite and CBF president Ednaldo Rodrigues, who gave an emotional embrace to Zagallo’s son Mario Cesar.

‘Only one Zagallo’

Claudio Auvarenga, a 64-year-old driver, arrived early to be among the first to file past the casket.

“You can travel the world, you’ll only find one Zagallo. No one else in history won four World Cups,” he told AFP.

Zagallo’s longtime assistant, Eliana Gaia, 66, called him a “human being without equal.”

“He was a magnificent person, a hero,” she said.

After the public wake and a private mass, Zagallo’s casket was hoisted atop a bright red fire truck for a funeral cortege through the streets of Rio de Janeiro, as a small crowd of fans applauded and cheered.

He was then buried at Sao Joao Batista cemetery, the final resting place of some of Brazil’s most famous citizens.

Zagallo died Friday of multiple organ failure, after suffering a series of health problems in recent months.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva declared three days of national mourning from Saturday.

Tributes have also poured in from the football world.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino called Zagallo a “tactical genius,” World Cup winners Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Romario paid homage, and current Brazil and Real Madrid star Vinicius Junior simply called him “LEGEND.”

The only other men to win the World Cup as both player and coach are Franz Beckenbauer of Germany (1974 and 1990) and Didier Deschamps of France (1998 and 2018).

Nostalgia for glory days

Beloved in Brazil for both his football heroics and outsize personality, Zagallo is remembered for his warm humor, deep superstition — he swore by the number 13 — and combative passion for the game.

He was the last surviving starter from the team that won Brazil’s first World Cup in 1958, after the legendary Pele died in December 2022 at age 82.

The loss comes at a difficult moment in Brazilian football.

Brazil sacked national team coach Fernando Diniz on Friday after the “Selecao,” playing without injured star Neymar, suffered a humiliating string of losses in World Cup qualifiers.

Brazil are currently a lowly sixth place in South American qualifying.

Sao Paulo coach Dorival Junior has been named to take over the Brazil job, the club said Sunday — though the CBF did not immediately confirm.

CBF chief Rodrigues — who was just reinstalled in the job Thursday amid a messy legal battle over leadership of the confederation — told journalists at the wake he “just want(ed) to talk about Zagallo today.”

“This is a time to talk about this legend of Brazilian and world football,” he said.


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