President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will lead the tributes on Tuesday as Brazil says a final farewell to football legend Pele, widely regarded as the greatest player of all time.
After holding three days of national mourning, Brazil has been paying its last respects to the player known as ‘The King,’ who died on Thursday at age 82 after a battle with cancer.
Lula, who took office on Sunday in a ceremony that started with a minute’s silence for Pele, will travel to the southeastern city of Santos to ‘pay his respects and tribute’ as the 24-hour wake for the late icon draws to a close at 9:00am (1200 GMT), his office said.
Thousands of fans and football dignitaries, including FIFA president Gianni Infantino, have already filed past Pele’s black coffin at the stadium where he first dazzled the world, the Vila Belmiro, home to his longtime club, Santos FC.
‘Pele is eternal. He’s a global icon of football,’ Infantino told journalists on Monday, saying football’s governing body would ask all member countries to name a stadium in the player’s honor.
Antonio Carlos Pereira da Silva, a 36-year-old artist, said he had arrived at midnight to be among the first inside when the wake began Monday morning.
‘If I said I didn’t cry when he died, I’d be lying,’ he told AFP.
‘Pele taught us so much. Not just Brazil, but the whole world.’
Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pele exploded onto the scene at age 15, when he made his professional debut with Santos.
He went on to win the World Cup three times with Brazil, in 1958, 1962 and 1970 -- the only player in history to achieve the feat.
Tributes have poured in from around the world since his death, with a Who’s Who of current and former football greats hailing his genius for the ‘beautiful game.’
A stream of athletes, politicians, dignitaries and fans have traveled to Santos for the ceremony, though turnout may be dented somewhat by the New Year’s holiday weekend.
Pele’s coffin was carried into the stadium Monday morning by pallbearers dressed in black, led by his son Edinho.
The late icon’s widow, Marcia Cibele Aoki, his third wife, whom he married in 2016, cried before his open casket as she reached out to touch his head. She also placed a rosary in his coffin.
The casket was draped in the flags of Santos and Brazil and was surrounded by white flowers, including bouquets from the likes of Real Madrid or current Brazil star Neymar, whose father was in attendance.
Other tributes have come in from around Brazil.
At the headquarters of the Brazilian Football Confederation in Rio, a giant poster with Pele’s image bears the word ‘eternal.’
Pele had been in fragile health, suffering from kidney problems and then colon cancer.
But he remained active on social media, cheering on Brazil from his hospital bed in Sao Paulo during the World Cup in Qatar and consoling the pre-tournament favorites when they were eliminated in the quarter-finals, three weeks before his death.
The funeral procession through Santos will go past the house of Pele’s mother, 100-year-old Celeste Arantes, who is still alive.
It will end at Santos’s Memorial Cemetery, where a Catholic funeral service will be held before Pele is interred in a special mausoleum.