- Preguinho scored Brazil’s first World Cup goal 90 years ago today
- Football is one of the ten sports where he won the trophy
- He refused to be paid for playing sports that he loved
Coelho Netto, a famous writer, playwright, politician and poet, longed for one of his 14 children to be a sportsman. He decided it would be number 12, and saw swimming as Joao’s calmest waterway into the sea of sports.
So when his son was five years old, Coelho grabbed his arm and threw him in the pool. “I wish he swam, but he sank like a nail,” the inventor of the nickname flattered Rio de Janeiro, Beautiful city (The Wonderful City), will remember. From then on, Joao was known as ‘Prego’, for the Portuguese word for nails, and consequently small, ‘Preguinho’ (Little Nails).
Strangely, the incident did not make the tough kid lose water. Mano, his older brother, who Coelho prepared for a career in literature, used to swim in the Rio sea at every opportunity. At first Joao went to watch Mano, but, afraid that the brother he idolized would consider him weak, began crawling forward and realized that he was fast.
At the age of 18, Preguinho won the Rio de Janeiro 600 meters swimming champion. Two years later, on April 19, 1925, he won the title for the third consecutive year.
However, this time, Preguinho is not waiting to collect medals. He didn’t even have time to dry off and put on his underpants, instead hurriedly pulled a pair of shorts into his wet suitcase and hurried across Rio to make his football debut for Fluminense.
Preguinho’s attempt to face Sao Cristovao is understandable. Mano is not an essayist or swimmer, but a footballer. Three years earlier, the Brazilian international’s stomach had been infected during the match for Fluminense against Sao Cristovao and he died, at the age of 24, because of it.
“The legend, some say, that he got from Botafogo beach to Laranjeiras by taxi,” Argeu Affonso, a journalist and friend of Preguinho for 40 years, told Globo Spectacular sport program. “Others say he got there on a bicycle. And others say – the more fanatical – that he got there running.”
To be sure Preguinho helped Flu won Torneio Inicio and six other trophies for one club, a 14-year soccer career. Preguinho’s marriage to Fluminense had begun long before he started wearing it Tricolor shirt. Founded by Oscar Cox and other members of Rio’s elite circle in 1902, Coelho Netto, whose family home is right in front of the club’s headquarters, became an instant fan. When his wife Maria became pregnant with Preguinho in 1904, Coelho registered his unborn son as a member of the club.
“I love Fluminense for as long as I can remember,” Preguinho said later. “I can’t speak properly and Fluminense is in my soul, my heart and my body.”
Unconvincing? When Fluminense turned professional in 1933, one of their players refused to be paid because of the “privilege” of wearing their color. “I play for the love of this club, not for money,” Preguinho said.
And playing something that he did with extraordinary. Preguinho on average scores Flu, twice finished as the leading marksman at Campeonato Carioca, although not only playing in front, but also in midfield, on the left wing and behind the striker.
Its flexibility goes beyond the soccer field. Preguinho amazingly won 387 medals for the club in ten sports, soccer and swimming between basketball – he remains second on the all-time scorer list – diving, roller hockey, rowing, table tennis, track and field, volleyball and water polo.
But Preguinho is best remembered for something he achieved not in the red, white and green of Fluminense, but in Brazil at that time-white. Selection preparations for the inaugural FIFA World Cup in 1930 were marred by disputes between the federation of Rio and Sao Paulo. The latter completely prohibited his players from participating in Uruguay in 1930. That meant people like Del Debbio, Feitico and Friedenreich were absent.
That left Preguinho as star and team captain who also consisted of Fausto, Moderato and Carvalho Leite. In their curtain-raising event against Yugoslavia, 90 years ago today, they walked in carrying the Uruguay flag to gain the support of 24,000 who attended, but found themselves losing 2-0 after 30 minutes.
Brazil will eventually lose 2-1, but, right after an hour, Preguinho has confirmed his place in history. After working well from Fausto, he netted their first World Cup goal.
Six days later Preguinho’s two goals inspired a 4-0 win over Bolivia, but the damage was done and Yugoslavia got the only Group 3 ticket to the semi-finals, where they lost 6-1 to Uruguay.
“I have written more than 100 books, but I am still known on the street as Preguinho’s father,” Coelho Netto said.
The story of Brazil’s first World Cup goal will leave Preguinho in history books indefinitely.