“In Brazil, Pelé is protected like a natural resource,” Miguel Acoga wrote about the soccer legend in a 1966 issue of LIFE magazine. But during the 1966 World Cup—pictured above and famously won by England on English soil—Pelé’s teammates could do little to shield the superstar from hard tackles and outright foul play by opposing teams. In fact, the 26-year-old forward was so badly injured during Brazil’s second match, against Portugal, that he was effectively knocked out of the tournament. For its part, Brazil was eliminated in the first round—its worst performance in Cup history.
Of course, by the time the ’66 Cup rolled around, the man born Edson Arantes do Nascimento was already regarded as the greatest living footballer, so it surprised no one that he was targeted by the competition.
Today, history might be repeating itself, as Brazil’s current face of fútbol, Neymar, will miss the rest of the 2014 Cup after Colombia’s Juan Zuniga violently took him down with a knee to the back that fractured a vertebra in the electrifying striker’s spine. Still, there remains a glimmer of hope for Brazilian fans. In 1962, four years before Brazil’s dreadful showing in ’66, Pelé was seen as an immense threat to the competition—and he was injured in a game against Czechoslovakia. Brazil nevertheless went on to win the Cup, without their star.
Brazilians—and those who, during this tournament, have rooted for Brazil—hope the soccer gods will grace them again this year, on Verde-Amarela’s (the green and yellow’s) home turf.