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Brazilian soccer legend Pele holds the World Cup trophy during the World Cup 2006 opening ceremony in Munich, Germany.


The king is dead. Long live the beautiful game

Twenty-one years of professional soccer, three World Cup wins, and more than 1,200 goals, including 77 for his country, Brazil. Edson Arantes do Nascimento – better known as Pelé, possibly the greatest athlete to have ever played the world’s most popular game – has died at age 82 in Sao Paulo. He was suffering from advanced colon cancer.

Pelé scored his first club goal in his first club match as a substitute at age 16. By 17, he was scoring on the international stage and lifting his first World Cup for Brazil, having scored two goals in the final in a historic 5-2 win over Sweden. That was in 1958. He would repeat the feat and bring home the World Cup again in 1962 and 1970, a record that remains unbroken today.

An international ambassador for his country and the sport, Pelé helped popularize the game in the US with a stint at the New York Cosmos in 1975. But as his golden era overlapped with a brutal military dictatorship back home, the attacking soccer star chose not to speak out against dictator Emilio Garrastazu Médici, who had seized power in 1969, suspending freedoms and conducting torture of political opponents. Médici needed a cultural icon – a face to attach to his nationalist propaganda, and Pelé provided it. In 1970, he didn’t just deliver the World Cup in Mexico, but he also turned up in Brasilia and posed next to the dictator with it, making the notoriously anti-democratic comment: "Brazilians don't know how to vote." He also never uttered a word about the thousands of political prisoners of the regime.

Post-retirement, he stayed involved politically: Pelé’s last political stint as a sports minister in the 1990s ended amid allegations against his company. Business and media savvy to the end, his continuing deals and endorsements afforded him a level of wealth that contrasted with the poverty of his childhood, when he resorted to playing soccer with grapefruits, rather than balls. The “Rei do Futebol” (King of Football), as the locals called him, will be buried in Santos, the coastal city where he played most of his soccer.

Paige Fusco

Frenemy face-off at the World Cup: Morocco vs. Spain

It's just a soccer game. Or maybe there’s more to it.

On Tuesday, underdog Morocco takes on 2010 champion Spain at the Qatar World Cup in what one might frame as a battle between “neighbors” in Africa and Europe, separated by barely 9 miles of the Mediterranean Sea and with a long-fraught political relationship that’s seen some recent twists and turns.

And there’s a bigger geopolitical story that goes beyond the two kingdoms.

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Paige Fusco

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Saudi fans watching the World Cup first-round match against Poland at a fan zone in Doha.

REUTERS/Ibraheem Al Omari

World Cup in Doha: Ghost city by day, party town for Arabs by night

Special edition: World Cup quiz!

How much do you think you know about politics at the most-watched sporting event in the world? Find out here.

A sculpture of the World Cup trophy is pictured in front of Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.


Will politics or soccer win Qatar's World Cup?

Sunday is the day half the world has been eagerly awaiting for four years. The men's soccer World Cup — the most-watched event of the most popular sport on the planet — kicks off in, of all places, Qatar.

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US Women’s National Soccer Team Continues Fight for Equal Pay | GZERO World

US women soccer team’s fight for equal pay "because we're clearly the dominant team"

The World Cup-winning US women's soccer team won its sixth medal (bronze) in the Tokyo Olympics, and it's arguably the world's best squad in recent years. Meanwhile, the national women's team just filed its first brief to appeal an equal pay lawsuit ruling against the US Soccer Federation, one year after a judge rejected their claim that they were underpaid compared to the (way less successful) men's squad. GZERO World gets the latest on what comes next from two-time gold medalist and World Cup champion goalkeeper Briana Scurry and their lawyers.

Watch the episode: Politics, protest & the Olympics: the IOC's Dick Pound

Brazil players celebrate winning the Copa America 2019 against Peru with the trophy.

REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

What We’re Watching: Copa America venue woes, Denmark-US Euro phone tap, Greenpeace vs big coal in Australia

Who will host the Copa América? Only two weeks before the first match, the Copa América, South America's biannual national football (soccer) tournament, has become — pardon the pun — a political football. The tournament was initially to be held jointly by Argentina and Colombia. Two weeks ago, however, the organizers dropped Colombia as co-host citing security concerns following mass street protests against the government's planned tax reforms. Now, as Argentina enters another national lockdown over rising COVID cases, they have decided to switch the venue to... COVID-ravaged Brazil. Brazil's embattled President Jair Bolsonaro has given the go-ahead, perhaps thinking that hosting the competition will help boost his rapidly declining approval ratings in the football-crazy nation. But the move — which is not yet final — immediately provoked strong criticism from Brazilians who think it will cause the deadly disease to spread even more, and the Supreme Court has agreed to review an urgent motion by the opposition Worker's Party to stop it. Meanwhile, Bolsonaro's supporters are calling out his opponents for rejecting a competition that will flush cash into Brazil's economy.

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