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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.

Morocco line-up during the 2022 FIFA World Cup quarterfinal match against Portugal in Doha, Qatar.

Jose Breton via Reuters Connect

What’s it worth to crush it at the World Cup?

Whether or not underdog Morocco beats France in the World Cup semifinals on Wednesday, one thing is sure: Becoming the first African or Arab nation to get this far in the biggest sporting event on the planet stands to get Morocco more than on-field glory in Qatar.

The Atlas Lions probably didn't expect to have such an amazing run, but their overperformance is no coincidence. It’s the fruit of decades of heavy investment by the kingdom in developing its players as part of Morocco’s broader sports diplomacy.

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Badr Benoun celebrates after Morocco progress to the World Cup semi-finals in Qatar.

REUTERS/Molly Darlington

Morocco’s historic World Cup run transcends its borders

Eurasia Group's Strahinja Matejic is attending the Atlantic Dialogues conference in Marrakech, Morocco. But he decided to go a day early to join local fans who watched the Atlas Lions make World Cup history.

“Are we winning tonight?”

That was the first question a Moroccan immigration officer asked me at the Casablanca airport just hours before Morocco faced mighty Portugal in the quarter-finals of the men's soccer World Cup in Qatar.

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Luisa Vieira

The Graphic Truth: FIFA War Cup

The quarter-finals of the 2022 men's soccer World Cup begin Friday in Qatar, with five teams from Europe, two from South America, and one from Africa. It's going to be war on the pitch in each of the four games, but what would happen if each side actually went to war with each other? We look at who would win each round — and the World Cup — if what counted was not soccer skills but rather military muscle, measured by percentage of GDP spending on defense.

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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Foreign born World Cup players.


The Graphic Truth: The World Cup of immigration

If you're a soccer player, your dream is to compete in the World Cup — with whatever country will call you up, whether you were born there or not. About 10% of players in the 2022 edition of the tournament in Qatar are foreign-born.

But this is nothing new. Almost 14% of players in Italy '90 were foreign-born and in the colonial era legends like striker Eusébio from Mozambique defended the colors of Portugal. What's more, when FIFA's eligibility standards were more lax, players were allowed to switch sides. José Altafini won the trophy with his native Brazil in 1958 and four years later didn’t repeat victory because he’d signed up for Italy, his adopted country. Wars matter, too: Robert Prosinecki played for Yugoslavia in 1990 and later for independent Croatia in 1998.

Also, the distribution of foreign-born players in Qatar 2022 is unequal: While half of Morocco's squad was not born in Morocco, four teams — Argentina, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea — have no foreign-born players at all. Fun fact: The Williams brothers, both born in Spain, are playing for different countries — the older Iñaki is realizing his grandfather's dream by playing for Ghana, where the family's roots are, while Nico is with La Roja.

We take a look at the number of foreign-born players in World Cup national squads.

Iran World Cup Players: Threatened at Home, Consoled by US Team | World In :60 | GZERO Media

US-Iran World Cup sportsmanship amid political tensions

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week on World In :60.

How did Iran's attention in the World Cup impact protests at home?

Well, I mean, it certainly didn't slow them down any. When you see the Iranian national team first refusing to sing the national anthem and then singing it as woodenly and non-passionately as humanly possible because they've been threatened, and threatened about their families at home if they aren't singing it, that's a hell of a message to send to the Iranian people. And the fact that this country does not reflect its regime, a team does not reflect its regime, it's just extraordinary. And also, I just have to say that all of the pictures and the videos we've seen of the Iranian team and the American team actually coming together, the Americans consoling the Iranians, who have been under such massive stress and crying, and I mean, you can't even imagine performing at that level on the global stage, given the level of additional political pressure and danger that they're actually under. My heart goes out to those guys, and of course to the Americans for doing such a great job representing our country.

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Argentina fan celebrates after the World Cup match against Mexico.

REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

World Cup heats up Argentina’s presidential race

When Argentina faces Poland in their do-or-die last group stage match on Wednesday, one thing will be missing at the stadium in Qatar: Argentine politicians.

In the soccer-crazy South American nation, políticos rarely watch the Albiceleste, in person to avoid getting blamed for a loss. Former President Mauricio Macri didn’t get the memo, as he attended — in his new FIFA gig — Argentina’s shocking loss to Saudi Arabia last week. Almost on cue, fans responded by launching an online petition for Macri and his bad juju to stay as far away as possible from GOAT Leo Messi and his crew.

But the brouhaha over Macri is part of a bigger story: The former president has hinted he might want to get his old job back in next year’s election.

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