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Pele funeral: Thousands queue to see legend’s coffin

Many had to wait for hours, even overnight, with others from across the world, to file past the open casket of the footballing icon, Edson Arantes Do Nascimento (popularly known as Pele).

Pele had been brought to his spiritual home of Santos, where he played most of his club career, for one final time.

Pele carried by pallbearers photo/Skysports

Pele wasn’t born here, and he didn’t die here.

But for 19 seasons, he put this place (Santos) on the map so much so that the Brazilian government made him an official national treasure, so he couldn’t play anywhere else.

The return of a king to his beloved Santos was welcomed with flags, flares and fans singing his name even before the sun rose on a blisteringly hot day in the city.

Football icon Pele, the only player ever to win three World Cups, died on December 29 at the age of 82. He had suffered from colon cancer among other diseases.

A Catholic mass will be celebrated in Santos this morning before his burial at a nearby cemetery.

Transported to the pitch that made Pele a superstar, his home ground at Vila Belmiro had banners adorning the hoardings proclaiming, “Viva O Rei” (long live the king) and shirts with his iconic number 10 hanging over every seat in one stand.

Placing him on the centre circle one last time was a little less smooth than fans might have been used to seeing in life, as the pallbearers had to move immaculately positioned chairs out of the way to make room to lift the open casket onto a plinth.

Those closest to him said their goodbyes, and his son Edinho said a prayer as they gathered together.

As the dignitaries started to arrive, they were led by FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino photo/Skysports

Speaking to reporters outside, Infantino said: “We are going to ask every country in the world to name one of their football stadiums after Pele, because a hundred years from now when children are asking who Pele was, well, they need to remember him all over the world in a place where you score goals, where you feel emotion in a stadium, in a football field where children, boys and girls can play.

“And we need to make sure that this happens.”

The new President of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, will arrive before Pele’s coffin is paraded through the streets of Santos, 24 hours after he arrived.

His coffin will also take in the home of his 100-year-old mother.

Pele’s final resting place will be a “vertical cemetery” a high-rise block just 200 metres away from the stadium, close enough to still hear the crowd roar.

Writing by Tersoo Nicholas; Editing by Tony Okerafor