The 1958 World Cup in Sweden

In 1950, it was decided at a FIFA congress in Rio de Janeiro that Sweden would organise the 1958 World Cup. What is noteworthy about this particular year is the fact that the legendary player Pele first made his appearance on the international football scene at the tender age of 17. Interestingly, Pele did not get to play until the very last moments of the group phase, and failed to score. He had yet to prove his worth. In addition, it was the first time a non-European team had won the World Cup and, since 1959, only European squads have won the coveted Cup.

This time, FIFA decided to have four seeding pots of four teams, each based on geographical locations. So there was a Western European pot consisting of Sweden, West Germany, Austria and France; an Eastern European pot with Czechoslovakia, Hungary, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia; a British pot featuring England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales; and an Americas pot which consisted of Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Paraguay. Austria in particular opposed this system as it was drawn against the three teams that were considered to be the strongest in each of the other three pots.

The draw resulted in group 1 consisting of West Germany, Northern Ireland, Czechoslovakia and Argentina. Then there was group 2 with France, Yugoslavia, Paraguay and Scotland, group 3 with Sweden, Wales, Hungary and Mexico, and group 4 with Brazil, the Soviet Union, England and Austria.

The England squad was weakened because of the utterly tragic plane crash in Munich in February 1958 that killed many Manchester United football players - the so-called Busby Babes- among them three English internationals including up-and-coming star Duncan Edwards. All their group matches ended in draws, and in the play-offs they were beaten 1-0 by the Soviet Union. Hungary also experienced problems, what with their annihilation in the 1954 World Cup, and the team having been further weakened by the loss of many good players who had fled the country after a failed coup against the communist regime.

In group 1, Northern Ireland surprised everyone by making it to the quarter finals, sending Czechoslovakia and Argentina home. Noteworthy in group 2 was the incredible overall performance of France’s Just Fontaine who scored a total of six goals, effectively boosting the French to the number one spot in their pool. In group 3, Wales pulled a similar stunt to the one carried out by the Irish, by drawing all of group games and then beating the already weakened Hungarians 1-0. Group 4 was regarded as a very strong group, what with the Russians being reigning Olympic champions and the Austrians having won bronze in the 1954 World Cup. Although England was weakened, many still considered the team a force to be reckoned with. As it turned out, the football played in this group disappointed many spectators who had expected nothing short of fireworks, and the fewest goals were scored in group 4. Brazil was victorious though, winning all the group matches in part due to the fantastic work of goalkeeper Gylmar dos Santos Neves, who did not concede a single point.

The 1958 World Cup final was played between Sweden and Brazil on 28 June 1958. In the fourth minute of the game, Sweden’s Niels Lidholm delighted the Swedish supporters in the Råsunda Stadium in Solna by scoring 1-0. However, their hopes were subsequently shattered by Edvaldo Izídio Neto, nicknamed Vavám, who made the score 1-1 in the 9th minute and 2-1 in the 32nd minute.

Then all hell broke loose as Pele was unleashed, making the score 3-1 early in the second half, after beautifully lobbing the ball past a hapless defender. Football experts consider it to be one of the most beautiful goals of all time, and it takes third place in FIFA’s Goal of the Century. Brazil’s supremacy was further consolidated by Mário Zagallo (4-1) against whom Sweden struck back, with Agne Simonsson setting the score to 4-2. In injury time, Pele put the icing on the cake with a beautiful header (5-2) after which the stadium erupted. Such was the feat of the Brazilians that the young Pele was reduced to tears on the pitch, and the whole team were congratulated by Swedish king, Gustav IV. Want to be there when the new legends are born? Get your World Cup 2014 tickets here.

Statistics:
Matches: 35
Goals: 126 (3.6 per match)
Attendance: 919,580 (26,274 per match)
Top Scroer: Just Fontaine

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