Cliff Jones: Wales had never heard of Pele before 1958 World Cup encounter

Pele won the first of his three World Cups in Sweden in 1958 (PA) (PA Wire)
Pele won the first of his three World Cups in Sweden in 1958 (PA) (PA Wire)

Cliff Jones admits Wales had never heard of Pele before the Brazilian destroyed their World Cup dream in 1958.

Pele was only 17 when he burst onto the scene in Sweden in sensational fashion, scoring six goals as Brazil won the World Cup for the first time.

But Pele – who died on Thursday at the age of 82 – did not play until Brazil’s third match of the tournament against the Soviet Union because of a knee injury.

He had arrived in the quarter-final as an unknown quantity to Welsh opponents missing their own star man John Charles through injury.

Pele, however, produced a piece of magic to score Brazil’s winner midway through the second half, becoming the youngest player to score at a World Cup at the age of 17 years and 239 days.

“Pele? We’d never heard of Pele,” Tottenham great Jones told the Daily Mail last month.

“I can remember him picking the ball up in his own half, and he’s gone past three Welsh defenders, smashed the ball towards goal.

“Jack Kelsey’s had to tip it over the bar and we’re all looking around at each other like ‘Who is this kid? Who is he?’

“No-one had heard of him, but my word they were going to.

“They had great talents, like Garrincha and Didi, but Pele was the one.”

Pele followed up his Wales winner – a goal he described as the most important of his career – by scoring a hat-trick in the 5-2 semi-final victory over France.

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He also scored twice in the 5-2 final victory against Sweden, the first of his three World Cup triumphs, and a bronze statue of Pele now stands outside Gothenburg’s Ullevi Stadium.

Jones said: “In my opinion Pele is the greatest player who ever played the game of football.

“In that World Cup he showed everybody what a great player he was.

“In many ways it was a privilege to see the emergence of such a player.”