Brazil says goodbye to late football great Zagallo

Zagallo, a diminutive left-winger known for his tactical brilliance, had a hand in Brazil's four World Cup wins

By AFP

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Mario  Zagallo poses for picture next to a statue representing him during a ceremony in his tribute in Rio de Janeiro. — Reuters file
Mario Zagallo poses for picture next to a statue representing him during a ceremony in his tribute in Rio de Janeiro. — Reuters file

Published: Sun 7 Jan 2024, 9:42 PM

Brazilians paid their last respects Sunday to football legend Mario Zagallo, after the four-time World Cup-winning player and coach died at age 92, the final member of one of the country's greatest footballing generations.

A steady stream of mourners -- dressed in black, the yellow of the Brazilian national team or the colors of the clubs where Zagallo played and coached -- filed past his coffin at the headquarters of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) in Rio de Janeiro.

On display near the lace-draped coffin and giant wreaths of flowers were football-mad Brazil's record five World Cup trophies.

Zagallo, a diminutive left-winger 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.

"He made football history. It's a tremendous loss," said Eduardo Bandeira de Mello, former president of famed club Flamengo, where Zagallo was both a player and manager.

Others paying their respects included CBF president Ednaldo Rodrigues and former Brazil coach Tite.

"He was an example to all Brazilians," said Claudio Auvarenga, a 64-year-old driver who 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 died on Friday of multiple organ failure at a Rio hospital, after suffering a series of health problems in recent months.

The public wake is to be followed by a private mass, then a burial at the Sao Joao Batista cemetery, the final resting place of some of Brazil's most famous citizens.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who called Zagallo "one of the greatest football players and coaches of all time," declared three days of national mourning from Saturday, ordering flags flown at half-staff across Brazil.

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).

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, which looks far from the glory days of Zagallo's era.

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, and are without a coach, having failed in their bid to hire Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti.

CBF chief Rodrigues -- who was just reinstalled in the job Thursday amid a messy legal battle over leadership of the confederation -- declined to discuss the coach question.

"I just want to talk about Zagallo today," he told journalists.

"This is a time to talk about this legend of Brazilian and world football."


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