Czech football great Josef Masopust, the former Ballon d'Or winner who led the national side to the final of the 1962 World Cup, has died aged 84.
The Club of Josef Masopust's Friends, the organisation that takes care of his legacy, said he died in his Prague home on Monday morning. No cause of death was given, but the Czech public television said he was battling a serious, long-term illness.
"It's an irreplaceable loss," Miroslav Pelta, the head of the Czech football federation, said. "He was a unique personality on and off the field."
Masopust, who was a creative playmaker with brilliant skill and technique, is best remembered for the opening goal in the 1962 World Cup final in Chile against the heavy favourites Brazil, who eventually won out 3-1.
"Masopust was one of the greatest players I ever saw, but it is not possible that he was born in Europe," Brazilian football great Pele later said. "With those explosive dribbles, he had to be Brazilian!"
Underdogs Czechoslovakia reached the knockout stage after drawing 0-0 against Brazil in one of their group matches before eliminating Hungary and Yugoslavia on the way to the final.
Pele sustained an injury in the group-stage encounter but, at that time, substitutes were not allowed. When he got the ball, Masopust did not challenge him and allowed him to pass.
"It was a gesture I will never forget," Pele said.
Masopust's moment in the final came in the 15th minute when he collected a through ball and scored with a one-touch low shot past goalkeeper Gilmar.
Opustila nás fotbalová legenda.Ve věku 84 let zemřel, první československý majitel Zlatého míče a stříbrný medailista z MS 1962, pan Josef Masopust.Čest jeho památce!
He was also on the Czech team that finished third at the European Championship in 1960.
Masopust, who made 63 international appearances, was named the best Czech footballer of the century in 2000.
Born Feb. 9, 1931, in the village of Strimice in a family of a miner, Masopust played the best years of his career for Dukla Prague, winning seven league titles. A statue of him was unveiled in front of the Dukla stadium in 2012.
At the end of his career, the communist regime allowed Masopust to play for Molenbeek for two seasons. After retiring as a player, he became a respected coach of clubs at home and abroad. He was also in charge of the Czechoslovakian national team from 1984 to 87.