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Garrincha’s last Christmas – A Brazil legend’s sad farewell to the game

The man who has a World Cup stadium named after him enjoyed an eventful career before passing away at the age of 49, one month after playing his last game

By Stefan Coerts in Brasilia

Although three-time World Cup-winner Pele is widely regarded as Brazil’s best player ever – and perhaps even the best the world has ever seen – many in the South American country will argue that his contemporary Garrincha was at least as good as the former Santos hero.

The attacker was not only hugely successful at club level with Botafogo, for whom he scored more than 200 goals in nearly 600 games between 1953 and 1965, but was also a key member of the Brazil team that dominated international football in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Garrincha was crowned world champion in 1958 and 1962 with Brazil, while he also featured at the 1966  tournament, where the Selecao were surprisingly eliminated in the group stages despite the Botafogo icon’s wonder goal in the 2-0 win over Bulgaria.

The former Pau Grande man’s performances at the 1958 World Cup saw him step into the spotlight for the first time, yet it was four years later that he really confirmed his status as one of the most gifted players the game would ever see.

World Cup hero | Garrincha was the star of the 1962 World Cup

With Pele picking up a knock that ruled him out of action for the remainder of the tournament in Brazil’s second group stage game against Czechoslovakia, the pressure was on Garrincha to step up and lead his team to glory. He did not let his country down.

The winger put in virtuoso performances in the quarter-final win over England and the semi-final victory against Chile to guide his team to the final, in which they beat Czechoslovakia 3-1. With four goals, Garrincha finished the 1962 World Cup as joint top-scorer and was voted player of the tournament.

Unfortunately, events spiralled downwards for Garrincha after the 1966 World Cup as Botafogo grew tired of his flamboyant lifestyle and his constant injury problems and sold him to Corinthians. He also endured unsuccessful spells with Atletico Junior, Flamengo and Olaria, before quitting the professional game in 1972.

His official retirement did not signal the end of his time on the pitch, though, as the Brazil legend continued to make appearances in benefit games and friendlies across the country.

One of those games took place on December 25, 1982 at the Estadio Adomir Guimaraes in Planaltina in the Federal District, with Garrincha wearing the Londrina jersey in an encounter with AGAP.

Estadio Adomir Guimaraes | Garrincha's footballing career came to an end in Planaltina

“It was an historical match here in Planaltina. Garrincha needed money and they decided to play a benefit game here. He stayed at a local hotel and the stadium was packed,” Ewerson Cordeiro, press officer of the Administracao Regional de Planaltina, recalls.

“It was Christmas afternoon and he played for Londrina. Everybody was cheering for Garrincha and he left the pitch without any clothes because everybody wanted a souvenir. The organiser later recovered his clothes and they are now in his office in Brasilia.”

Manoelzinho, the man who organised the game and who was a close friend of Garrincha, still remembers the match vividly.

“Garrincha wasn’t very fit anymore as he was already 49 years old. He played the first half and then 10 minutes of the second half. It was a benefit match to help him with his financial problems and we earned $800 for him,” Manoelzinho said.

The former Flamengo player then went on to stress that the winger will always remain one of the best players in the world for him, irrespective of new stars such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar.

“Nowadays, we have Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar, but we can never compare them to Garrincha and Pele, who are the best players ever. I realise that football is different now, but they remain the best ever.”

Eternal No.7 | Manoelzinho holds up the jersey Garrincha wore in his last game

Sadly, that game in Planaltina would prove to be the last time the legendary winger would show off his skills.

Less than one month later, Garrincha passed away at the age of 49. The man who gave the people of Brazil so much pleasure, winning two World Cups in the process, was unable to win the battle against alcohol and died from cirrhosis of the liver on January 20, 1983.

Garrincha has not been forgotten, however, with the 69,349-seater World Cup stadium in Brasilia - the second-most expensive football arena in the world -  named after him.

He might not have represented his country as often as Cafu, Roberto Carlos or Lucio, or scored as many goals as Pele, Zico and Ronaldo, but Garrincha will forever be the hero of many Brazilians.

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