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Brazil says final farewell to 'King' Pele

Fans line the streets as a firetruck carries the remains of Brazilian football legend Pele to the cemetery. ©AFP

Santos (Brazil) (AFP) - Crying, waving flags and chanting "1,000 goals!", Brazilians flooded the streets Tuesday to say a final farewell to late football legend Pele, widely considered the greatest player in history.

After three days of national mourning, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva led the tributes as streams of fans, politicians and football dignitaries descended on the southeastern city of Santos for the wake and funeral procession of the player known as "The King," who died last week at age 82.

Santos FC, the club where Pele spent most of his storied career, said some 250,000 people had attended his 24-hour wake in the Vila Belmiro stadium, where mourners continued arriving straight through the night.

Lula, who took office Sunday in a ceremony that started with a minute's silence for Pele, was visibly moved as he and First Lady Rosangela "Janja" da Silva attended the wake, embracing the player's widow, Marcia Cibele Aoki, who was in tears.

"Goodbye to the King.Rest in peace, Pele," Lula wrote on Twitter.

The wake ended with a brief Catholic ceremony, after which 10 state police guards in dress uniform closed Pele's black casket.

RIP, with a view 

Draped in the black-and-white flag of Santos FC and the green-and-yellow one of Brazil, the coffin was then placed atop a firetruck and given a massive funeral procession through the city.

Huge crowds of fans, some in tears, lined the streets and gathered on balconies to say a last goodbye, chanting "1,000 goals, only Pele!"

The procession included an emotional stop at the house where Pele's 100-year-old mother, Celeste Arantes, still lives.

"Dona Celeste," as she is known, has cognitive difficulties, and is unaware her world-famous son has died, according to the family.But Pele's sister, Maria Lucia, who lives with her, appeared on the beige house's balcony surrounded by family.

The 78-year-old clasped her hands and tearfully bowed her head to the massive crowd in gratitude.

The procession ended at the port city's Memorial Cemetery, near the stadium, where a private funeral service was held.

Pele was then interred in a 10-story mausoleum that holds the Guinness World Record as the tallest cemetery on Earth.

A spokesman for the cemetery said Pele's embalmed body would rest in its coffin, displayed in the middle of a 200-square-meter (2,150-square-foot) replica football stadium with artificial turf, surrounded by gilded images from his glory days.

"It's a difficult moment," 33-year-old fan Jonatas Versolato told AFP as the coffin was brought into the cemetery.

"Pele was an idol not just to the nation but the entire world.Saying the final goodbye is going to leave a giant hole."

'Global icon'

Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pele is the only player in history to win three World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1970).

He scored a world record 1,281 goals during his more than two-decade career with Santos (1956-74), the New York Cosmos (1975-77) and the Brazilian national team.

He died Thursday after a battle with cancer.

Tributes have poured in from around the world, with current and former football greats hailing his genius for the "beautiful game," including Brazil star Neymar, France's Kylian Mbappe and Argentina's Lionel Messi.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who attended the wake Monday, called Pele "a global icon of football" and said the sport's governing body would ask all member countries to name a stadium in the player's honor.

'Pele was everything'

Life-long Santos fan Katia Cruz, 58, who lives a block from the stadium, said she had stood in line for four hours overnight to get into the Vila Belmiro, attending the wake without her husband because he was "inconsolable."

"Pele was everything.He was the King.He deserves this," she told AFP.

In the latest in an outpouring of tributes, Rio de Janeiro's mayor said the city would rename the street outside the iconic Maracana stadium Pele Avenue.

Pele's son Edinho said the family was grateful for the flood of such gestures.

But "any homage we can pay to him is small compared to what he represents and the life story he wrote," he said.

"I am just so grateful and proud."

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