Brazilians mourn Pelé at the stadium where he got his start

APTOPIX Brazil Pele The coffin with the remains of Brazilian soccer great Pele lies on display on the pitch of the Vila Belmiro stadium in Santos, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
Brazil Pele Fans hold up photos of the late Brazilian soccer great Pele as they line up at Vila Belmiro stadium where his body lies in state, to pay their last respects in Santos, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
Brazil Pele The coffin of Brazilian soccer great Pele is carried on the pitch of Vila Belmiro stadium where he will lie in state in Santos, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
Brazil Pele People line up to pay their last respects to the late Brazilian soccer great Pele at Vila Belmiro stadium where his body lies in state in Santos, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
Brazil Pele The coffin with the remains of Brazilian soccer great Pele is carried for his wake on the pitch of the Vila Belmiro stadium in Santos, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
Brazil Pele Funeral workers uncover the coffin of the late Brazilian soccer great Pele as he lies in state on the pitch during his wake at Vila Belmiro stadium in Santos, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
Brazil Pele Funeral service workers unveil the coffin of Brazilian soccer great Pele at the Vila Belmiro stadium in Santos, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
Brazil Pele People line up to pay their last respects to the late Brazilian soccer great Pele during his wake at Vila Belmiro stadium in Santos, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
Brazil Pele The coffin with the remains of Brazilian soccer great Pele is carried for his wake on the pitch of the Vila Belmiro stadium in Santos, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023.(AP Photo/Marcelo Chello)
Brazil Pele Soccer fans arrive to pay respect to the late Brazilian soccer great Pele during his wake at the Vila Belmiro stadium in Santos, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
Brazil Pele Fans line up to pay their last respects to the late Brazilian soccer great Pele who lies in state at Vila Belmiro stadium in Santos, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
Brazil Pele A banner Pele hangs on a home where people line up to pay their last respects to the late Brazilian soccer great who lies in state at Vila Belmiro stadium in Santos, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
Brazil Pele A fan of Pele wipes tears in a line of people waiting to pay their last respects to the late Brazilian soccer great, lying in state at Vila Belmiro stadium, in Santos, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
Brazil Pele Jerseys for sale featuring the player number and name of Pele hang where people walk to the Vila Belmiro stadium where the late Brazilian soccer great lies in state in Santos, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
Brazil Pele Edinho touches the forehead of his father, Brazilian soccer great Pele, who lies in state at Vila Belmiro stadium in Santos, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
Brazil Pele Shirts featuring Pele hang for sale where people wait in line to enter Vila Belmiro stadium where the late Brazilian soccer great lies in state in Santos, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
Brazil Pele People pay their last respects to the late Brazilian soccer great Pele whose lies in state at Vila Belmiro stadium in Santos, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Marcelo Chello)
Brazil Pele Soccer fans line up to attend the funeral of the late Brazilian soccer legend Pele at the Vila Belmiro stadium in Santos, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
Brazil Pele The hearse carrying the body of the late Brazilian soccer legend Pele arrives to the Vila Belmiro stadium in Santos, Brazil, where his funeral will take place, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
Brazil Pele Soccer fans wait outside the Vila Belmiro stadium for the doors to open for the funeral of the late Brazilian soccer star Pele, in Santos, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
APTOPIX Brazil Pele Soccer fans sleep outside the Vila Belmiro stadium waiting for the doors to open for the wake of the late Brazilian soccer star Pele, in Santos, Brazil Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
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SANTOS, Brazil (AP) — Thousands of mourners, including high school students and supreme court justices, began filing past the body of Pelé on Monday on the century-old field where he made his hometown team one of Brazil’s best.

The soccer great died on Thursday after a battle with cancer. He was the only player ever to win three World Cups, and he was 82.

Pelé’s coffin, draped in the flags of Brazil and the Santos FC football club, was placed on the midfield area of Vila Belmiro, the stadium outside Sao Paulo that was his home for most of his career. A Catholic Mass will be celebrated there Tuesday morning before his burial at a nearby cemetery. Brazil’s newly inaugurated President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will come to Vila Belmiro shortly before Pelé’s coffin is removed from the stadium.

The storied 16,000-seat stadium was surrounded by mourners, and covered with Pelé-themed decorations. Fans coming out of the stadium said they’d waited three hours in line, standing under a blazing sun.

Forty-five years after Pelé played his last game, he’s still a central part of Brazil’s national story.

Geovana Sarmento, 17, came with her father, who was wearing a Brazil shirt with Pelé’s name.

“I am not a Santos fan, neither is my father. But this guy invented Brazil’s national team. He made Santos stronger, he made it big, how could you not respect him? He is one of the greatest people ever, we needed to honor him,” she said.

In the 1960s and 70s, Pelé was perhaps the world’s most famous athlete. He met presidents and queens, and in Nigeria a civil war was put on hold to watch him play. Many Brazilians credit him with putting the country on the world stage.

Caio Zalke, 35, an engineer, also wore a Brazil shirt as he waited in line. “Pelé is the most important Brazilian of all time. He made soccer important for Brazil and he made Brazil important for the world,” he said.

Rows of shirts with Pelé’s number 10 were placed behind one of the goals, waving in the city’s summer winds. A section of the stands was filling up with bouquets of flowers placed by mourners and sent by clubs and star players — Neymar and Ronaldo among them — from around the world as loudspeakers played a song named “Eu sou Pelé” (“I am Pelé”) that was recorded by the Brazilian himself.

Claudio Carrança, 32, a salesman, said: “I never saw him play, but loving Pelé is a tradition that goes from father to son in Santos. I learned his history, saw his goals, and I see how Santos FC is important because he is important. I know some Santos fans have children supporting other teams. But that’s just because they never saw Pelé in action. If they had, they would feel this gratitude I feel now.”

Santos FC said that more than 1,100 journalists from 23 countries were at the funeral. Dignitaries and friends of Pelé in attendance spoke at the funeral.

Among them was Pelé’s best friend Manoel Maria, who is also a former Santos player. “If I had all the wealth in the world I would never be able to repay what this man did for me and my family. He was as great a man as he was as a player; the best of all time. His legacy will outlive us all. And that can be seen in this long line with people of all ages here.”

FIFA President Gianni Infantino told journalists that every country should name a stadium after Pelé.

“I am here with a lot of emotion, sadness, but also with a smile because he gave us so many smiles,” Infantino said. “As FIFA, we will pay a tribute to the ‘King’ and we ask the whole world to observe a minute of silence.”

Another fan and friend in line was Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes.

“It is a very sad moment, but we are now seeing the real meaning of this legendary player to our country,” Mendes told journalists. “My office has shirts signed by Pelé, a picture of him as a goalkeeper, also signed by him. DVDs, photos, a big collection of him.”

Mendes also said Pelé was a humble man despite his global fame, and that he deserves every tribute.

The casket will be ushered through the streets of Santos before his burial Tuesday.

Pelé had undergone treatment for colon cancer since 2021. The medical center where he had been hospitalized said he died of multiple organ failure as a result of the cancer.

The soccer star led Brazil to World Cup titles in 1958, 1962 and 1970, and remains one of the team’s all-time leading scorers with 77 goals. Neymar tied Pelé’s record during this year’s World Cup in Qatar.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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