RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Fans, players and coaches paid their last respects in Brazil to Mario Zagallo on Sunday, as the first person to win the World Cup both as a player and a manager was buried at a Rio de Janeiro cemetery.
Zagallo was seen by many as the embodiment of the Brazilian national team, whose flair and skills gained a global following, with a large banner reading “Zagallo eternal” at the Brazilian soccer confederation (CBF) headquarters. Tributes on Sunday began with a public wake and then a private funeral, attended by friends and family, at the CBF museum.
His casket was later transported on top of a firetruck through Rio on a sunny Sunday afternoon. It was covered in the flags of world soccer governing body FIFA, South American soccer body CONMEBOL, and the CBF.
Upon arrival at the Sao Joao Batista cemetery, only Brazil’s national flag was on the casket as dozens of fans silently joined family members and former players like soccer great Cafu to bid Zagallo farewell.
“I owe my career in the national team to him,” said former player Zinho, who tearfully kissed Zagallo’s forehead in an open casket during the wake. “I recently wanted to visit him, he was not in good shape, but still called me to chat later. I lost a father.”
Zagallo won two World Cups as a player (1958 and ’62), one as a coach (with the still revered team of 1970) and another as an assistant coach (1994) for Brazil.
He died late on Friday at age 92 of multiple-organ failure. Local media reported he was hospitalized after Christmas.
A life-size statue of the soccer legend was close to his casket during the wake. Zagallo saw the unveiling of the statue in a wheelchair in October 2022. Replicas of all five World Cup trophies Brazil has won were placed in front of Zagallo’s casket. His sons received miniature versions of them.
“I can only thank people all over the world for all the love they are giving to my father,” said Paulo Zagallo. “He was lucid until the end. It was God’s will to allow him to rest so he didn’t suffer so much.”
Fans like Jair Almeida Alves, 56, applauded as they passed by Zagallo’s casket. Wearing a Botafogo shirt, one of Zagallo’s clubs as player and coach, Alves said he saw him as a national hero.
“He is the embodiment of what it is to be proud about being Brazilian. Only later in his life people understood Zagallo, how important he was for our soccer, for our identity,” Alves said. “This is a celebration of his life, he lived a great life, made us happy and is now in the history books.”
Europe-based Vinicius Junior, Richarlison and Casemiro have been among current Brazil players to pay tribute. Neymar, Brazil’s all-time top goal scorer, has reportedly made no public comment so far.
Zagallo was also the last living member of Brazil’s starting team in its first championship victory in the tournament in 1958.
He played a role in nearly every major chapter in Brazilian soccer history, from its first World Cup title in 1958 to the tournament it hosted in 2014. Former Brazil coach Tite visited him to hear his advice before taking the team to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Zagallo coached Brazil in the 1970, 1974 and 1998 World Cups, winning the first of those. He was the team’s assistant coach in the 1994 title-winning campaign.
Brazil soccer great Ronaldo, the 1994 and 2002 World Cup winner, was among many to send wreaths.
“Zagallo, your era is eternal,” his message said. “Thanks for everything you taught me. Rest in peace. I love you.”
Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva declared three days of national mourning on Saturday.
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer
Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.