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Maradona vs Pele: Who's the greatest of them all?

FOOTBALL By AFP | November 29th 2020
In this March 1987 file photo, Pele, left, and Diego Maradona, hold trophies during an awards ceremony in Italy. The Argentine soccer great who was among the best players ever and who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity, died from a heart attack on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, at his home in Buenos Aires. He was 60. [AP Photo/File]

Who is the best footballer in history? Nowadays some might argue Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, but neither of the record-breaking pair has ever won the World Cup.

Diego Maradona, who died on Wednesday aged 60, and Pele each won the sport’s greatest prize and were undoubtedly the kings of their eras.

AFP Sport looks at who was the best between the controversial Argentine and the magical Brazilian:

1986 champion v triple crown

Pele played in four World Cups, winning three times -- 1958, 1962 and 1970 -- a record not yet beaten. He was just 17 when he was world champion in Sweden for the first time in 1958, when he scored six goals, two of which were in the final.

Pele was injured in the second match of the 1962 World Cup but claimed a third title in 1970, his magical side beating Italy in the Mexico City final and leaving fans worldwide spellbound.

Maradona, ignored for the team which won the World Cup on home soil in 1978 and sent off in a tournament-ending 3-1 loss to Brazil in Spain in 1982, shot to global fame in 1986 for the right and wrong reasons.

His infamous “Hand of God” goal against England was followed by a superb individual effort, often hailed as the greatest goal ever scored. He scored twice in the semi-final win over Belgium and supplied the crucial pass for the winner in the 3-2 defeat of West Germany in the final.

Marcio Pereira, 57, who likes to go by the nickname "Pele" juggles a soccer ball next to a monument adorned with a national Argentine flag bearing the No. 10, placed there by a mourner as a tribute to Diego Maradona, outside the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. [AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo]

Number 10 v number 10

Both men wore the legendary number 10 shirt -- Pele from 1956-1977 and Maradona from 1976-1997.

Pele’s role was often described as a “nine and a half”, his attacking skills yielding 1,281 career goals in 1,363 matches for his clubs, Santos and New York Cosmos, and the ‘Selecao’, the Brazilian national team.

He remains his country’s top international goal-scorer with 77.

Maradona, sporting the “D10S” (a word play with the number 10 used to also create the word “Dios”, God in Spanish) played in a free role, more the playmaker, and his career statistics reflect that -- 345 goals in 692 matches.

Football legends Pele (R) and Diego Maradona attend an advertising soccer event on the eve of the opening of the UEFA 2016 European Championship in Paris, France, June 9, 2016. [REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo]

Rebel v role model

Pele was portrayed as the clean-cut hero, scandal-free, honourable, sporting, a career spent at just two clubs -- Santos (1956-74) and New York Cosmos (1975-77).

Maradona played for six teams, was sent off at the 1982 World Cup, scored with his hand against England in the 1986 tournament and was sent home in disgrace from the 1994 competition after failing a drugs test. He also suffered with cocaine addiction.

Brazilian football legend Pele poses after receiving from 46-year-old industrial engineer Jarbas Menighini (out of frame), his handmade replica of the FIFA World Cup trophy, in the surroundings of the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 12, 2014, on the eve of the FIFA World Cup final between Germany and Argentina. [AFP PHOTO / YASUYOSHI CHIBA]

Argentine v Brazilian, two egos

In a reflection of the bitter rivalry which characterises their two countries, both Pele and Maradona proclaimed themselves the greatest player of all time.

Pele has a museum dedicated to his name and condemned Maradona as “not being an example” to youngsters because of his drug problems.

Maradona used the tune of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s classic “Bad Moon Rising” to mock Brazil’s 7-1 World Cup semi-final humiliation at the hands of Germany on home soil in 2014.

Brazil fans hit back with their own tune.

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