FIFA Men's World Cup
Brazil won't use Pelé's illness as motivation: 'We send our support to him'
FIFA Men's World Cup

Brazil won't use Pelé's illness as motivation: 'We send our support to him'

Updated Dec. 5, 2022 8:48 p.m. ET

DOHA, Qatar — Brazil won’t use national icon Pelé’s poor health as motivation in Monday’s World Cup round of 16 meeting against South Korea (2 p.m. ET, FOX and the FOX Sports app), Seleção coach Tite said before the match.  

That doesn’t mean he won’t be on their minds.

The 82-year-old Pelé, who led Brazil to three World Cup titles and remains the country’s all-time top scorer with 77 goals in 92 games, has been hospitalized in São Paulo since Friday with a respiratory infection aggravated by COVID-19. 

The hospital said Saturday Pelé is responding well to treatment for the infection. He is expected to leave the hospital once he fully recovers from the respiratory infection.


"He is sick, he is old. But at the moment, he is there because of the lung infection. And once he feels better, he will go home again," Pelé's daughter Kely Nascimento told TV Globo. "He is not saying good-bye in a hospital at the moment." 

Fans around the world have rallied around the legend; over the weekend, several skyscrapers in Doha were adorned with images of Pelé wearing Brazil’s familiar yellow shirt with the words "Get well soon" emblazoned underneath. 

On Saturday, Pelé released a statement on Instagram thanking supporters for their well-wishes.

"Every message of love I receive from you all over the world keeps me full of energy. And watching Brazil in the World Cup too!"  

On the eve of Monday’s match, Tite spoke about what Pelé, the only man to win three World Cups and perhaps the most famous soccer player of all time, means to the Brazilian people.

"Getting straight to the heart of my feelings, I’ll talk about Pelé with no filter," the coach said. "The only time I was shaking when meeting someone was with Pelé. I shook and my hand froze. On a sporting level, he’s unmatched." 

Tite was asked by a reporter if his players wanted to beat the Koreans for Pelé. 

"I don’t want to be using a difficult moment someone’s going through as a way of drumming up motivation," he said.  

"What I see from the supporters — their admiration, their prayers, their inspiration for him — is great in everyone’s own way. It’s not about drumming up motivation so that we play well. It’s about playing well, then paying tribute to him."

Brazil, FIFA’s top-ranked team and the favorites to win the 2022 World Cup, are already the most successful team in the competition, with five titles. The most recent came 20 years ago, the second-longest drought in their decorated history.  

The Seleção rolled through the first two games of the group stage, beating European foes Serbia and Switzerland to qualify for the knockout stage with a game to spare. A reserve heavy lineup surprisingly lost the first-round finale to Cameroon, snapping a 17-match unbeaten streak. Brazil still finished atop Group G on goal difference over the Swiss.  

Star forward Neymar hasn’t played since injuring his ankle in the opener but has been cleared and is expected to participate against South Korea. In a friendly match in June, Brazil routed the Taegeuk Warriors 5-1.  

"I do believe that knowing the opponent is important, especially at such a decisive stage of the World Cup, in a knockout game," Brazil captain Thiago Silva said. "On the other hand, that means they know our team as well. So that's why I think it'll be a very different match from the one we played six months ago." 

Asked about Pelé, Silva took a slightly different tack than his manager.  

"We send our support to him and hope that he can still watch our match," he said. "We'll try to play our best and win so that we can bring him some joy and pride."

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Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.


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