1958 World Cup: A legend is born

The 1958 World Cup in Sweden marked a new era in the tournament.

A 17-year-old Pele announced his presence to the world by guiding Brazil to victory in Sweden

A 17-year-old Pele, left, shot to international fame at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. ((AFP/Getty Images))

The 1958 World Cup in Sweden marked a new era in the tournament.

Although the festivities in Switzerland four years earlier were televised, the 1958 competition was the first to receive international television coverage. For the first time, people from all corners of the globe had the opportunity to watch soccer's brightest stars compete in the game's showcase event.

International television and the World Cup combined to create the perfect stage from which the career of the most recognized athlete of the 20th century and the greatest soccer player of all time was launched: Edson Arantes do Nascimento, more famously known as Pele.


  • Number of participating teams: 16
  • Top scorer: France's Just Fontaine (13 goals)
  • Number of games: 35
  • Total goals scored: 126
  • Average goals per game: 3.60
  • Highest scoring game: France's 7-3 win over Paraguay on June 8.
  • Total attendance: 868,000
  • Average attendance: 24,800


The sixth World Cup saw a record number of countries (55) take part in the qualifying round. Several perennial heavyweights (Italy, Spain and Uruguay) never made it out of the qualifiers while the Soviet Union graced the World Cup for the first time. Also debuting were Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Still trying to perfect the competition, FIFA flirted with another format. The 16 teams were still divided into four, but this time (unlike in Switzerland) all the teams in a group played each other and extra time was not used to settle draws. The top two would move on to the quarter-finals, with a one-game playoff used when the second- and third-place teams finished tied on points.

Action from all four groups kicked off on June 8 and there were plenty of surprises, perhaps none more so than in Group 1 where Northern Ireland stunned Czechoslovakia 1-0 in Halmstad. The Irish finished second after upsetting the Czechs again in a playoff, while West Germany, the champions, topped the group on the strength of a 3-1 win over Argentina in Malmo.

In Group 2, France began the tournament with a bang, a 7-3 win over Paraguay in Narrowing. Just Fontaine, the French centre-forward, scored a hat trick. It was sign of things to come. France rebounded from a loss to Yugoslavia with a 2-1 win over Scotland in its last game to win the group. Yugoslavia finished second.

Over in Group 3, the host Swedes defeated Mexico and Hungary to win the group. Wales earned three draws and then stunned Hungary 2-1 in the playoff to finish second. These were not the same Magical Magyars that dazzled spectators and opponents alike four years earlier in Switzerland. Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis and Zoltan Czibor fled their homeland for Spain in 1956 after the Soviet invasion, never to play for Hungary again.

MATCH OF THE TOURNAMENT: Brazil's 5-2 victory over France in the semifinals. The two teams battled evenly in the opening 45 minutes, and Brazil sat on a precarious 2-1 lead at halftime. In the second half, the Brazilians put on a devastatingly entertaining display as Pele scored a hat trick within 20 minutes. Unbelievable.

MAN OF THE TOURNAMENT: Pele. Yes, Just Fontaine scored a World Cup record 13 goals, but nobody captured the imagination of fans in Sweden like Pele. With six goals to his credit, including a pair in the final, the 17-year-old kid who grew up in poverty announced his presence to the world.

SPOTLIGHT: When Just Fontaine went to Sweden, the centre-forward was not a part of France's first team. He only made it into the starting lineup when Rene Bliard hurt his ankle in training before the tournament even started and was forced to return home to France

Given the chance to start for his country, the Morocco-born Fontaine ran riot in Sweden, bagging a hat trick in France's opening game, a 7-3 win over Paraguay, and capped off his World Cup performance with a four-goal outburst against West Germany in the third-place match.

In just six games, Fontaine, fed sublime passes all tournament long by the incomparable Raymond Koa in midfield, scored a World Cup record 13 goals, a mark that is not likely ever to be broken.

AND ANOTHER THING: Brazil introduced its innovative 4-2-4 system at the 1958 World Cup, a lineup that differed from the more traditional Pyramid (2-3-5) and W-M (3-4-3) formations employed in soccer at the time.

Under the 4-2-4 scheme, Brazil played with two centre-forwards who were supported in attack by two wingers. By having two attackers play up front in the middle, Brazil forced opposing teams to switch their defensive lineup, as they could no longer play with just one central defender.

Although Brazil's 4-2-4 featured four players in defence, the system was hardly defensive. Aside from their defensive duties, the two defenders on the wings were obligated to move forward and join the offensive rush.

Thus, the formation became 2-4-4 with eight players in attack when Brazil had the ball, allowing the Brazilians to maintain pressure on their opponents and dictate the pace of the game. The key was to have two outside defenders who were quick - as they had to fall back into defence when their opponents were attacking - and had a knack for creating scoring chances.

The only overt weakness of the system was that it left Brazil dangerously under-populated in midfield when the opposition was attacking.

Shortly after Brazil's World Cup victory in Sweden, most nations switched over to the 4-2-4 system.

In Group 4, Brazil opened with a 3-0 win over Austria in Uddevalla. A 0-0 draw with England followed before they won the group with a 2-0 victory over the Soviet Union. The Soviets took second thanks to a 1-0 playoff win against England.

Having missed the first two games due to injury, a 17-year-old Pele made his World Cup debut on June 15 in Gothenburg against the Soviets. That game also saw the debut of the talented winger Garrincha, dubbed the "Little Bird," a vital cog in the Brazilian team that would dominate world soccer for years to come.

With six goals in the first round, Fontaine picked up where he left off in the quarter-finals by scoring twice in France's 4-0 win over Northern Ireland. West Germany disposed of Yugoslavia 1-0 thanks to Helmut Rahn's goal, while Sweden defeated the Soviets 2-0.

Unquestionably, the best game of the quarter-final round took place in Gothenburg between Brazil and Wales. Even with centre-forward John Charles - a star with Italian side Juventus at the time - out injured, the dogged Welsh defence kept Brazil in check for the better part of the game.

Finally, the young Pele took hold of the contest and scored - his first ever goal in a World Cup - in the 73rd minute and Brazil won 1-0. Pele himself later described it as the most important goal of his career.

The Swedes continued on their march towards the final, bouncing the West Germans from the competition with a 3-1 victory in the semifinals.

The other semifinal saw the French, led by the goal-scoring exploits of Fontaine, take on the Brazilians in Solna. Brazil scored in the first minute, but Fontaine equalized eight minutes later. Didi scored with six minutes left in the half to give Brazil a 2-1 lead.

From there, Pele took over, scoring three goals within a 20-minute span in the second half. France added a late meaningless goal, but Brazil romped to an entertaining 5-2 victory on the shoulders of their emerging young star.

Fontaine saved his best performance for last, scoring four times in France's 6-3 win over West Germany in the third-place game, to bring his tournament total to 13, a World Cup record that still stands today.


Following a day of heavy rain, Brazil and Sweden walked out onto a slippery field before 50,000 fans jammed into Stockholm's Rasunda stadium and millions more around the world watching on television.

Brazilian manager Vicente Feola made one key change, taking out defender Newton de Sordi and inserting for the first time in the competition Djalma Santos, a member of the 1954 World Cup team. It proved an astute move: Djalma and Nilton Santos brilliantly combined to defuse the dynamic Swedish scoring duo of Lennart Skoglund and Kurt Hamrin.

Everybody waited with baited breath to see what kind of magic the Brazilians would conjure. The consensus was that Pele and his cohorts would easily samba their way through the Swedish defence within minutes.

Instead, it was the Swedes who struck first, Gunnar Gren feeding a pass to Nils Liedholm who skipped past two defenders and fired the ball into the right-hand corner of the net in the fourth minute. It was the first time Brazil trailed in the tournament.

The beast sufficiently agitated, Brazil instantly came to life and levelled the affair five minutes later when Garrincha beat his marker and delivered a pass into the middle for Vava who scored. The same pair hooked up at the 30-minute mark, Vava scoring an almost identical goal.

Pele gave Brazil a two-goal cushion in the 55th minute when he netted a stunningly breathtaking goal - standing in a crowd in the penalty area with his back towards the goal, he trapped a high pass with his chest, knocked the ball over his head while being marked by a defender, whirled around and volleyed it past Swedish goalkeeper Karl Svensson. A legend was born.

Winger Mario Zagalo, who went on to coach Brazil to victory at the 1970 World Cup, made it 4-1 13 minutes later. Agne Simonsson scored with 10 minutes left in regulation for Sweden but Pele bagged his second of the game in the 89th minute, rising majestically through the air to score on a header from a Zagallo cross.

After two consecutive disappointments - the shocking loss to Uruguay on home soil at the Maracana in 1950 and bowing out to Hungary in the quarter-finals in 1954 - Brazil had fulfilled its destiny: champions of the world.

As Pele and the rest of the team were in tears, the classy and gracious Stockholm crowd applauded the new world champions. Sportingly, Brazil did a lap of honour around the field carrying a Swedish flag.

The world had been introduced to the mercurial talents of Pele, and the soccer dynasty known as the Brazilian national team was born. Soccer would never be the same again.


  • Brazil's 1958 victory is still the only time a South American country has won the World Cup on European soil.
  • Pele is one of only two players to have scored in four World Cups (1958, 1962, 1966 and 1970). West Germany's Uwe Seeler (1958-1970) is the other.
  • At 17 years and 239 days, Pele is the youngest player to have ever scored at the World Cup when he found the back of the net against Wales in the quarter-finals. He is also the youngest player ever to win the World Cup and is the only man to win three World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1970).
  • The 1958 World Cup marked the only time all four teams from Great Britain - England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - qualified for the same tournament.
  • After Argentina crashed out of the competition in the first round, they were "welcomed" back home in Buenos Aires by angry fans at the airport who pelted them with garbage.
  • Brazil and England battled to a 0-0 draw in the opening round in the first goal-less game ever at the World Cup.
  • Brazilian centre-forward Jose Altafini was nicknamed "Mazzola" because he bore a striking resemblance to former Italian captain Valentino Mazzola. Altafini would play for Italy at the 1962 World Cup in Chile.