Soccer fans are mourning the loss of Pele, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest soccer players to ever step onto the field. For Greek soccer fans, 1961 marks the year that Pele played in Greece.
In the summer of 1961, Pele’s team, Santos, played three friendly games against teams in Greece. One of the Greek teams even managed to defy expectations and triumph against Santos.
Pele in Greece, 1961
It was the summer of 1961 when Pele arrived to Greece for the first time. Santos, which Pele had been playing for since 1956, was there for a series of friendly matches against Greek teams.
By 1961, Pele’s reputation was already growing in the soccer world. He played for his country in the 1958 FIFA World Cup during which Brazil emerged victorious. At the tournament, he became the youngest player in World Cup history to score a hat trick.
Santos faced off against three Greek teams, Panathinaikos, AEK, and Olympiakos. The first game was against AEK. The Brazilian team enjoyed a strong game with a 3-0 victory over AEK.
Panathinaikos offered stiffer competition. However, Santos was able to secure a close 3-2 win. Pele later said of the Greek team, “Panathinaikos is a more composed team that bases its game on a good system as well as on the excessive speed of its players.”
It was Olympiakos that was able to hand Pele’s team its only defeat during its time in Greece. Olympiakos won the game with a score of 3-2. The victory was immortalized in the Olympiakos chant with the addition of the lines “Santos and Pele still remember you.”
Return to Greece, 2005
In 2005, Pele returned to Greece long after his retirement from professional soccer in 1977. This time, the Brazilian soccer legend was in Greece for the opening ceremony of a new stadium in Xanthi, a city in Western Thrace.
Just a day before attending Xanthi, Pele attended another event in Piraeus. Whilst there, he spoke with the president of Olympiacos, Sokratis Kokkalis. The Olympiakos manager gifted him some replicas of the team’s trophies and a red and white Olympiakos jersey with his name on it.
On May 12, 2005, Xanthi FC’s president, Christos Panopoulos, took Pele to the new stadium on his motorbike. Since then, the team (then named Skoda Xanthi) has called the Xanthi FC Stadium their home ground.
Of the stadium, Pele said, “They are amazing. [Soccer] players today have such facilities to train in and they still complain. When I was a player we didn’t have such [soccer] facilities.”
“This sports center is a model and I will suggest to the Brazilian National Team to use it to prepare for the 2006 World Cup,” he continued.
On Thursday, December 29, 2022, Pele died at the age of eighty-two. The cause of death was organ failure brought on by colon cancer.
The Brazilian legend is remembered by many sports fans as one of the greatest soccer players of all time. He scored a total of 1,281 goals and is the only player in history to win three World Cups.
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