Pele had already been through a lot by the time he won his second FIFA World Cup™ 50 years ago this year. As a teenager he had the rest of the world rubbing their eyes in disbelief in helping Brazil to glory at Sweden 1958, while four years later his contribution to their successful title defence in Chile was cut short by injury.
Though he had become a household name by that time, the same could not be said of Santos, the club he would inspire to great heights for more than a decade, at least not outside Brazil. All that would change, however, on 30 August 1962, thanks to a trip they made to Buenos Aires.
Santos had already won much with their star in the No10 shirt. As well as lifting the Taca Brasil in 1961, they claimed the Rio-Sao Paulo Tournament in 1959 and three Sao Paulo state titles between 1958, and 1961, while the line-up of Gilmar, Lima, Mauro, Zito, Calvet, Dalmo, Dorval, Mengalvio, Coutinho, Pele and Pepe was one that tripped off the tongue, in Brazil that is.
Outside the country they still had a point to prove, and one of the best ways of making it was by winning the Copa Libertadores.
That objective seemed to have been secured when Santos travelled to the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo for the first leg of the 1962 final against Penarol, with two goals from Coutinho giving O Peixe a valuable 2-1 away win. Their maiden Libertadores title looked to be in the bag, though the great Alberto Spencer had other ideas, the Ecuadorian scoring a brace of his own in the return game at the Vila Belmiro to give the Uruguayans a 3-2 win and level the tie up on aggregate.
Under the rules of the competition at the time that meant a play-off match on neutral ground. The venue chosen for the decisive third game was the Estadio Monumental de Nunez, in the Argentinian capital.
It was the occasion for Santos to come into their own on the international stage. Though Pele was still complaining of the muscle injury that had sidelined him at Chile 1962, there was much more to that fabled side than their most recognisable star.
That point was proved just 11 minutes into the play-off with Penarol, when Coutinho jinked his way past three opponents and sent in a low cross that Omar Caetano could only turn into his own net. The gritty Uruguayan outfit came back strongly, with Spencer smashing a shot against Gilmar dos Santos Neves’ crossbar just before half-time. Yet Penarol failed to convert their pressure into goals and would pay the price after the restart.
Just three minutes of the second half had elapsed when Pele collected possession on the edge of the box, following a one-two between Dorval and Pepe, and lashed the ball home. There was no way back for Penarol, the Brazilians rounding off a comprehensive win in the closing stages when Pele ran on to a pass in the box and made it 3-0.
It was the last kick of the match. With no time to restart the game, Dutch referee Leo Horn, perhaps aware of the significance of the moment, tucked the ball under his arm and held on to it all the way back to the Netherlands.
In the meantime, Santos celebrated their maiden conquest of Latin American football, and followed up a few weeks later by travelling to Lisbon and thrashing the mighty Benfica in the second leg of the Intercontinental Cup. A new era had dawned.