For decades following his retirement, Pele was viewed as one of — if not the — greatest footballer of all time.
The Brazilian is said to have scored a world record 1,279 goals in 1,363 games — an achievement that will stand apart for generations to come.
While scoring many of these goals for Brazilian club Santos over an 18-year period, Pele is arguably best known throughout the world for his phenomenal record and performances at the World Cup for his country.
Making his World Cup debut at the age of just 17 in 1958, he went on to have a storied career in football’s grandest tournament and led some of Brazil’s most exciting teams on the world stage. Here, following his death at the age of 82, The Sporting News looks back at Pele’s magical World Cup career, and where his achievements place him compared to the other greats of world football.
MORE: Pele 1940-2022, the man who taught the world the beautiful game
How many World Cups did Pele win with Brazil?
Pele won three World Cups, with his victories all coming in a 12-year period between 1958 and 1970.
It was his maiden victory in 1958, where he scored two goals in the final against hosts Sweden, where he truly put himself on the map as a generational footballing talent.
He was also part of the squad that went back-to-back in 1962 in neighboring Chile, although an injury sustained in the opening match meant he didn’t take part in the final itself, and it wasn’t until 2007 that he was retrospectively awarded a winners’ medal for that tournament.
While he was largely a passenger in that triumph, he was the complete opposite in 1970 — leading arguably the best World Cup-winning team of all time to glory. Brazil swept all before them, including defeating a defensively strong Italy 4-1 in the final, with Pele scoring the opener in that match.
More: Pele Netflix documentary — the birth of a legend
Pele World Cup-winning record vs the game’s other greats
In terms of World Cup trophies won, Pele stands alone compared to all other players with his three triumphs. No player before or since can match the Brazilian’s feat.
In fact, other than Pele, only 20 players have been able to win two World Cups, with many of those being his teammates from the 1958 and 1962 triumphs, including Garrincha. Also on the list are Brazil legends from the late 1990s and early 2000s, such as Ronaldo and Cafu.
Other luminaries of the game to win multiple tournaments include Giuseppe Meazza for Italy, and Argentina’s Daniel Passarella, who captained his country to a World Cup win at home in 1978.
Three players have won multiple World Cups without having played a game: these are Castilho and Pepe with Brazil in 1958 and 1962, and Guido Masetti, who went unused in Italy’s victories in 1934 and 1938.
MORE: TSN Archives, Pele magic ignites US soccer boom (Oct. 29, 1977 issue)
How many World Cups did Pele play in?
Pele appeared in four World Cups overall, which makes his winning record of 75% remarkable.
He appeared in every tournament from 1958-1970, with his only failure being a group-stage exit in the 1966 World Cup that was eventually won by England.
By that time, Pele’s exploits on the world stage had made him a global star, and many expected him to lead Brazil to an unprecedented third triumph in a row.
However, he and Brazil failed to spark amid some very rough defending in group games against Bulgaria and Portugal, which saw the star man hacked down by brutal challenges.
Pele missed the second group game against Hungary due to an injury sustained from a foul, and he was hurt again in the final, crucial group match against Portugal that left him limping around the pitch for the whole game as there were no substitutions permitted at the time.
Brazil lost 3-1 and were eliminated from the tournament in the first round for the first and, to date, only time in their history.
MORE: Who did Pele play for? List of clubs and why he never played in Europe
How many goals did Pele score at the World Cup?
Pele scored 12 goals in 14 World Cup matches, which leaves him joint sixth in the overall World Cup goalscoring charts.
Former Germany striker Miroslav Klose tops the charts with 16 goals in 24 games, ahead of Pele’s compatriot Ronaldo, who managed 15 goals in 19 World Cup matches and held the record from 2006 to 2014.
Gerd Muller is third, with 14 goals in 13 games, ahead of France great Just Fontaine and Lionel Messi, who added his name to the list in Qatar in 2022.
At the same World Cup as Pele made his debut, Fontaine scored a staggering 13 goals in just six matches. It was his only tournament, too: he retired in 1962, aged just 28, because of injury.
|Rank||Name||Nation||World Cup Goals||Tournament Games Played In||Tournament Appearances||Goals Per Game|
|1||Miroslav Klose||Germany||16||24||2002, 2006, 2010, 2014||0.67|
|2||Ronaldo||Brazil||15||19||1994, 1998, 2002, 2006||0.79|
|3||Gerd Muller||West Germany||14||13||1970, 1974||1.08|
|4||Lionel Messi||Argentina||13||26||2006, 2010, 2014, 2018, 2022||0.50|
|6||Pele||Brazil||12||14||1958, 1962, 1966, 1970||0.86|
|6||Kylian Mbappe||France||12||14||2018, 2022||0.86|
|8||Jurgen Klinsmann||West Germany/Germany||11||17||1990, 1994, 1998||0.65|
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