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Forget Messi and Ronaldo: Piatek leads top leagues in goals

FC United
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Pele Top 10: World Cup glory, with Bobby Moore and goals, goals goals

Pele made his debut for NASL'S New York Cosmos 40 years ago.

The great Edson Arantes do Nascimento (otherwise known as Pele) made his debut with the NASL's New York Cosmos on June 15, 1975 and helped his new side to a 2-2 draw with a goal and assist against the Dallas Tornadoes. Here are 10 of his best moments.

10. The debut for Santos

"This boy will become the greatest soccer player in the world."

That was the bold opinion of Waldemar de Brito, a fine player who represented Brazil 18 times in the 1930s and early 1940s -- and the man who discovered Pele.

De Brito took Pele to Santos, for whom he made his debut for the senior team aged just 15 in a friendly against Corinthians Santo Andre (not to be confused with the more famous and successful Corinthians from Paulista), and he scored in a 7-1 victory.

A few years later, when Pele had established himself, the Corinthians keeper that day -- a man named Zaluar -- had business cards printed that identified him as "the goalkeeper who let in Pele's first goal."

Not the most obvious brag, but clearly one worth making.

9. The 1959 South American Championships

Nothing is perfect in football, and so it is with Pele's career. While he said his failure to score an overhead kick was the only low point in his international career, the one medal missing from his collection was the South American Championship -- what would eventually become the Copa America.

This doesn't seem to bother him too much (it isn't mentioned in his autobiography), perhaps because in the early days of the tournament it was erratically staged and often wasn't taken terribly seriously. But he still excelled at one edition.

For some reason two championships were held in 1959, one in Argentina and one in Ecuador (perhaps to emphasize how seriously or otherwise it was taken, Brazil entered a team only from the state of Pernambuco to the latter), but at the former, Pele was brilliant.

Brazil finished second in the league table behind Argentina, a draw against Peru early in the tournament proving costly, but Pele scored eight goals in six games including a hat trick against Paraguay and was named player of the tournament.

8. Signing for the New York Cosmos

In 1975, the North American Soccer League was drifting toward a death that would hardly be noticed, let alone mourned by an indifferent public.

Pele had basically retired in 1974, combining various business interests with occasional appearances for Santos, but when one of these businesses started to go south, he needed money. A return to full-time football was the only option.

Juventus, Real Madrid and AC Milan were all keen, but he didn't want the pressure of playing in Europe, so he took up the offer from the New York Cosmos that had been made a few years earlier.

"Don't go to Italy, don't go to Spain -- all you can do is win a Championship," Clive Toye, Santos general manager and former Daily Express sports writer, said. "Come to the US and you can win a country."

There were thousands locked out of his first game and he was the catalyst behind the upturn in NASL average crowds, going up around 80 percent from 1975 to 1977.

"I remember the first practice," said Cosmos coach Gordon Bradley. "A cross went behind Pele's head and he was running toward the goal. He jumped up in the air and did a bicycle kick and scored. The press couldn't believe it. I ended the practice right then."

The captain, Werner Roth, offered: "The biggest challenge for us was not stopping and watching him play."

Pele stayed in New York for three years and ended up making more money with the Cosmos than in his entire Santos career. NASL wasn't quite so lucky, its popularity declining after Pele left and was done by 1985.

Pele, a three-time World Cup winner, is widely regarded as the best player to have played the game.

7. Inspiring a ceasefire in Lagos

The Nigerian Civil War was fought between the ruling Nigerian powers and the people of Biafra, a state in the south east of the country that seceded in 1967 following the persecution of the Igbo people.

However, when Santos toured Africa in 1969 (according to Pele, anyway -- some accounts have it in 1967) there was a 48-hour cessation of hostilities so everyone could watch him play in an exhibition match in Lagos.

Of course, this is a tale about which the specifics could well have been lost in the sands of time (indeed, some have the ceasefire occurring for a different game in Benin), and it's therefore perhaps cheating to include it in this list, but Pele inspiring a ceasefire from a violent civil war is certainly the sort of thing you want to believe.

"I'm not sure it's completely true," he wrote in his autobiography, "But the Nigerians certainly made sure the Biafrans wouldn't invade Lagos while we were there."

The game ended 2-2.

6. 110 goals in 1961

As with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Pele is not remembered exclusively as a goalscorer in the same way players like Paolo Rossi or Romario are. But like the two modern day greats, his scoring statistics are utterly absurd.

In 1959, the year he turned 18, he'd already bagged 100 goals in 83 games. But a couple of years later, he made that look positively sluggish by comparison.

In 1961, the year he and Santos won the Campeonato Paulista (the regional championship) and the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A (the national championship), Pele netted an implausible 110 times in 74 games.

In 1961, Pele played and scored in friendlies against Inter Milan, Roma, Hamburg, recently-crowned European champions Benfica ... and Sheffield Wednesday. Scoring 110 in 74 games is impressive even if you are facing some jokers from the other side of town, never mind the best Brazilian and European football has to offer.

5. The final game

You probably know the story of Pele's final game, a 1977 friendly between Santos and the Cosmos in which he played the first half for the latter, the second for the former. He gave a speech in which he encouraged the crowd to shout "Love!" three times as a message of peace and harmony for the world

Muhammad Ali, Henry Kissinger and Bobby Moore were there, with Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto on the Cosmos team. Pele scored a 30-yard free kick in the first half before switching teams at the break after which the heavens opened and the game ended in the pouring rain, prompting one Brazilian newspaper to use the headline: "Even the Sky Was Crying."

Pele ended his career having played 1,367 matches, scoring 1,283 goals -- many, admittedly, were in friendlies. He scored 92 hat tricks, four goals 31 times, five in a game six times and eight once.

"That felt like enough," he wrote in his autobiography. "Wherever you go, there are three icons that everyone knows," he once said.

"Jesus Christ, Pele and Coca-Cola." After all, when you're Pele, why be modest?

4. Winning the Copa Libertadores with Santos, 1962-63

Pele won the 1962 World Cup with Brazil but was injured in the group stages, so he barely played and thus didn't really feel part of the success.

However, shortly after the tournament, Santos became the first Brazilian club to win the Copa Libertadores, beating Penarol in the best-of-three final round with Pele scoring a brace in the decisive match. They they beat Eusebio's Benfica in the Intercontinental Cup, and Pele scored four in a 5-0 win in what he would describe as "The best game of my career. No-one could stop me."

Benfica goalkeeper Costa Pereira said after the game: "I arrived hoping to stop a great man, but I went away convinced I had been undone by someone who was not born on the same planet as the rest of us."

The following season Santos retained the Copa Libertadores, again with Pele to the fore, scoring a last-minute equaliser in the first leg of the semifinal against Botafogo, then a hat trick in the 4-0 second-leg cruise.

They faced Boca Juniors in the final, beating them 3-2 in the first leg before heading to Buenos Aires for the second in a febrile atmosphere. Boca took the lead and, their players targeted Pele (one ripping his shorts clean off), but he still managed to set Coutinho up for the equaliser before scoring the winner with eight minutes remaining.

3. The 1,000th goal

The circus is insufferable whenever a player is approaching a milestone in any sport, and in 1969 for Pele it was no different.

Goal number 999 was scored in a remote outpost against a team from Paraiba called Botafogo (not the famous club from Rio), so it looked like the milestone would be reached in relative obscurity.

However, Santos goalkeeper Jair Estevao went down injured in slightly mysterious circumstances, and with no substitute goalkeeper, an outfielder had to go between the sticks. Of course, because he could do anything on a football pitch, that outfielder was Pele, so "O Milesimo" as it became known, would have to wait.

He drew a blank in his next game -- the opposition fans booed their own defender for clearing one shot off the line -- but then Santos travelled to play Vasco de Gama at the Maracana, a rather more fitting site for the big goal.

It looked like another frustrating night for Pele, but in the closing stages he was through on goal and was brought down inside the area.

He wasn't their usual penalty taker, but given the circumstances, nobody else was going to take it. He stepped up and hesitated briefly before slotting the ball to the goalkeeper's left. He ran into the net and kissed the ball and was instantly surrounded by fans and photographers. The game was suspended for 20 minutes as he was chaired around the pitch.

"A penalty is a cowardly way to score," Pele once said.

One can only imagine how many goals he would've scored if he had a different opinion. The game, incidentally, ended 2-1 to Santos.

2. The 1958 World Cup

Pele nearly missed the tournament that announced his implausible talent to the world; a knee injury before the Brazil squad travelled to Sweden threatening his participation.

Even after he was selected, he wasn't selected in the first two games in the tournament, coach Vicente Feola still unsure about his experience and fitness. However, when he was selected against the USSR, he slotted straight into the team and in the second round match against Wales he really made people notice this skinny 17-year-old by scoring the winner, before bagging a hat-trick in the semifinal against France.

"When I saw Pele play, I just wanted to hang up my boots," said Just Fontaine, which was a reasonable statement from a man who scored 13 goals at that tournament.

Of course, the enduring image from the tournament was his brilliant goal in the final, as Brazil beat hosts Sweden 5-2.

Pele passed out after the game, the enormity of what he had done just too much for him, and he had to be revived by Garrincha, with whom Pele never lost a single game for Brazil.

1. The 1970 World Cup

Tarcisio Burgnich, the Italian defender who marked him in the 1970 World Cup final, said of Pele: "I told myself before the game, he's made of skin and bones just like everyone else. But I was wrong."

Pele, irked at rough treatment in 1966 and the disorganised national side, declared he wouldn't play in another World Cup, but by 1969 he had changed his mind and helped Brazil qualify for the finals in Mexico, where he would produce some of his, and football's, most iconic moments.

Pele's highlights reel is almost as ridiculous as the Brazil forward line, with Rivelino, Tostao, Jairzinho and Gerson reel alongside him.

There was the dummy/miss against Uruguay; the outside-of-the-foot free-kick against Romania; the miss from inside his own half against Czechoslovakia; the mutual appreciation society with Bobby Moore; the pass to Carlos Alberto in the final; and of course his own towering header

Pele didn't immediately join the celebrations after the 4-1 win over Italy in the final but instead prayed his thanks to God.

"The intensity of emotion as Carlos Alberto lifted the trophy above his head, tears of joy in his eyes, was like nothing I had ever known," Pele wrote in his autobiography.

"Alfredo Di Stefano was manufactured on earth, Pele was made in heaven," wrote the great English journalist Geoffrey Green, while one of his successors, Hugh McIlvanney, said of that Brazilian team in 1970: "Other teams thrill us and make us respect them. The Brazilians at their finest give us pleasure so natural and deep as to be a vivid physical experience."

Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.

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