Indian Football: Revisiting Pele's connection with India on the legend's 81st birth anniversary
On the 81st birth anniversary of Brazilian legend Pele, let's revisit the times when the "King of Football" stepped down on the Indian soil.
On October 23, 1940, the world saw the birth of a footballing legend. June 29, 1958, the 17-year-old helps Brazil lift their FIFA World Cup. Edson Arantes do Nascimento, widely popular as Pele turns eighty-one today. Back in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, no Indian thought that a footballing great of such caliber would ever land on their home soil. But fortune has proved them wrong.
The Brazilian legend Pele came to India twice. The first time as a footballer and the second time on a week's visit.
Pele first came to India in the year 1977 when Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan played New York Cosmos on the 24th of September, 1977. The match was held at the Eden Gardens, a stadium which is nowadays widely popular for cricket. Pele was a part of the New York Cosmos side. The Mohun Bagan side comprised the likes of Subrata Bhattacharya, Gautam Sarkar, Pradip Chowdhury, Bidesh Bose, and Shibaji Banerjee and was guided by Late. Pradip Kumar Banerjee.
The match ended 2-2 with Cosmos taking the lead in the seventeenth minute, courtesy of a goal from Carlos Alberto Torres. But that lead didn't last long and in the following minute, Shyam Thapa scored an equalizer for Bagan. Bagan then took the lead before the end of the first half from a long-range attempt by Akbar. In the second half, Cosmos were awarded a controversial penalty and Changalia equalized from the spot.
That particular day was a milestone in Indian football. The Eden Gardens was jampacked with supporters and football lovers; around 75,000 people were present in the stands.
The second time Pele came to India was in 2015. He came here for a week and visited a few places. Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan wasn't an exception to that. On the 13th of October, 2015, Pele came to the Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan and witnessed the Indian Super League fixture between Atletico de Kolkata and Kerala Blasters FC; he left the stadium just before halftime.
The match ended 2-1 in favor of Atletico de Kolkata with Arata Izumi and Javi Lara scoring for the Kolkata-based outfit on the 6th and the 53rd minute, respectively, and Chris Dagnall scoring the consolation goal for Kerala Blasters FC on the 80th minute. The match also saw Mehtab Hossain (Kerala Blasters FC) being sent off on the 89th minute.
Indian Football team captain Sunil Chhetri has recently surpassed Pele in terms of the number of goals scored for the country. Chhetri equaled the Brazilian legend with his solitary goal against Nepal which led to India's first victory in SAFF Championship 2021 and kept their hopes of reaching the final alive. It may not be a comparison that Suni Chhetri loves, but as an Indian, this makes us proud.
Pele is widely considered to be one of the greatest footballers of all time, and we as Indians are fortunate to have a special connection with him. We wish him the best of health and a very happy 81st birthday.
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