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Brazil mourns late football great Zagallo

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) – President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva led the tributes as Brazil mourned four-time World Cup-winning football legend Mario Zagallo, who will be laid to rest Sunday after his death at age 92.

Zagallo, who played alongside Pele in Brazil’s 1958 and 1962 World Cup-winning teams and later won the trophy as a coach, died Friday of multiple organ failure, said the Barra D’Or hospital in Rio de Janeiro, where he had been treated for a series of health problems in recent months.

The “Old Wolf,” as the diminutive left winger was known, coached Brazil’s 1970 World Cup-winning 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 was one of the greatest football players and coaches of all time,” Lula said in a statement Saturday.

“Courageous, passionate… (he) leaves a lesson of love, dedication and the will to overcome for our country and for world football.”

Tributes also poured in from the football world.

“Zagallo’s influence on football, and Brazilian football in particular, is supreme,” FIFA chief Gianni Infantino said.

He underlined that the late legend had a hand in four of Brazil’s five World Cup titles — more than anyone in history.

“In times of need, Brazil has looked to ‘The Professor’ as a calming presence, a steering hand and as a tactical genius. He will be remembered as the Godfather of Brazilian football and his presence will be sorely missed… The story of the FIFA World Cup cannot be told without Mario Zagallo,” Infantino said.

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).

The Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) declared a week of mourning and a minute’s silence at upcoming matches.

Teams where Zagallo spent parts of his career also paid tribute, including Botafogo, Fluminense and Vasco.

“A true legend. Rest in peace, Zagallo,” Flamengo, where he was both a player and coach, posted on X.

Even teams with no ties to Zagallo weighed in, such as Santos, longtime home of his late Brazil teammate Pele, who died in December 2022 at age 82.

“Our ‘King’ Pele awaits you,” the club posted on X.

Outsize personality

A public wake for Zagallo will be held from 9:30 am (1230 GMT) at CBF headquarters in Rio, followed by a burial at the Sao Joao Batista cemetery, the final resting place of some of Brazil’s most famous citizens.

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.

His death comes at a difficult moment in Brazilian football, which is still mourning the loss of Pele just over a year ago.

Brazil sacked national team coach Fernando Diniz Friday after the struggling “Selecao,” playing without injured star Neymar, suffered a string of losses in World Cup qualifying, including a humiliating 1-0 home loss to arch-rivals Argentina in November.

The CBF has meanwhile been embroiled in a messy legal battle over its leadership, and has struggled to find a new coach, with Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti turning down the role.

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