Tuesday, July 22, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea — The inaugural Peace Cup concluded in monsoon conditions yesterday as Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven beat French title-holders Lyon 1-0 before 33,778 fans and Brazilian star Pele at Seoul World Cup Stadium.

PSV captain and goal scorer Mark van Bommel accepted the trophy and the $2 million check for winning the eight-team tournament, which will be held again in South Korea in 2005. In an exclusive interview with The Washington Times, Pele promised he would return to help Korea organize the event, which he believes will draw even bigger clubs next time around.

“There’s no doubt I will be involved in the next one,” Pele said about the tournament, which this year will distribute $1 million to youth sports clubs in 20 nations, including Nepal, Guyana, North Korea and Iraq. “When you mention the word peace, when you are trying to bring peace in the world, I will always be there. I’ve worked with UNESCO and UNICEF and kids all over the world.”

Pele’s company, Pele Productions, was involved in getting FIFA, soccer’s governing body, to sanction the Peace Cup, and he contacted the participating clubs himself.

At 63, Pele looks remarkably young and has hardly changed since he led Brazil — a team considered by many to be the greatest ever assembled — to a World Cup championship in 1970.

“Everybody knows I was born in Brazil in a little town called ‘Three Hearts’ [Tre Coracoes],” Pele said. “So I am man with three hearts. That’s why I look so young. God gave me good health, and I look after myself. I don’t drink too much, and I try and keep in shape. In my career, I played for 25 years, and in all that time I tried to keep myself fit.”

Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pele got his nickname from a friend at school when he was 8, and the name just stuck. The word “Pele” has no meaning but has become one of the most famous names in the world.

Pele also was a pioneer of soccer in America.

After winning three World Cups with Brazil and scoring more than 1,000 goals with his club, Santos, Pele retired in 1974. But a year later, in a stunning move, he joined the New York Cosmos in a $3.5 million deal with Warner Communications. For nearly three seasons he drew crowds of 70,000 fans to Giant Stadium.

“When I arrived in New York, soccer was not so well known. There was just the college game,” Pele said. “What makes me so happy now is that U.S. soccer players are well known all over the world. The amount of young people involved is fantastic. More than 20 million plays the game, and I believe great prospects will come from America. Now we need the professional game to grow as a business because no doubt the game is there.”

From 1995 to 1998 Pele held the title of Brazil’s Extraordinary Minister for Sports, making him Brazil’s first black minister. He tried to clean up the corruption in Brazilian soccer by passing legislation that club presidents be fiscally responsible, but he faced tough opposition.

“Yes, we had a lot of problems in Brazil,” Pele said. “I tried to start a new law in Brazil, but the club directors were against my law. I tried to clean up the game because the corruption was so big.”

The Brazilian ace still faces opposition in his homeland, and organizers of the Peace Cup were disappointed that Brazilian club Sao Paulo didn’t make the trip after initially signing on. The team was replaced by Uruguay’s Nacional.

Pele works tirelessly as an ambassador of soccer but is well rewarded. He reportedly earns more than $20 million a year from his sponsors, MasterCard, Coca-Cola, Nokia and Viagra.

His father, Dondinho, also was a talented player who once scored six goals in a game with his head, a feat Pele never accomplished.

As for tonight’s Gold Cup semifinal game between the United States and Brazil in Miami, Pele was picking no winners.

“Today the game is very even, and you can never play an easy game,” Pele said. “Look what happened at the World Cup. Argentina was favorite and didn’t get out of the third round. France was meant to be in the final and was beaten by Senegal and look at how well Korea did. Even the United States, they lost to Germany in the World Cup because the referee made a big mistake. Brazil may have a little more experience, but the level of the game played by the U.S. team is the same, no doubt.”

Notes — Korean World Cup star Ji Sung Park, now with PSV, was named the tournament MVP and won the Golden Ball. … The founder of the tournament, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, awarded PSV the winners’ trophy and check despite the heavy rain. … The first 12 games of the event, held in six venues throughout Korea, drew an average crowd of 28,304. … In yesterday’s championship game, there was so much water on the field that players were trying to juggle the ball before kicking it because it would not run along the ground. At one point, van Bommel, who won the game on a penalty kick in the 22nd minute, literally tried to swim in a large puddle on the field.

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