SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Brazilian soccer legend Pele said Thursday that he has "happily recovered" from a recent health scare.
The 74-year-old spent time in intensive care late last year because of a urinary tract infection and had to undergo physiotherapy to recover some of the muscle mass that he lost during his hospital stay.
"I want to thank God because I have my health and I'm here before you all," Pele said while visiting a slum in Santiago. "I feel blessed because with health you can do it all."
The three-time World Cup champion said his recovery now feels like "the most important medal." But he joked that although fit, he's not ready to play in the Copa America tournament that kicks off in Chile in June.
Pele is widely regarded as one of the greatest soccer players of all time. He is a national hero in Brazil and remains a global ambassador for the game.
During his visit to the Parcelas de Mapuhue, a trash-strewn slum of wooden shacks with tin roofs, he remembered his humble origins, shared laughs with residents and gave children stuffed yellow foxes that are the mascot of the Copa America.
"There are still way too many families living in poverty in Latin America. It's a tragic reality and I've worked throughout my life to raise awareness of this situation," said Pele, whose visit was organized by Techo, a youth-led nonprofit organization and Santander bank.
Pele said he was glad to return to the Andean country where he won the World Cup in 1962 and is now looking forward to the Copa America, which will be played in eight Chilean cities.
He declined to name a favorite to win, but didn't hesitate to name Argentina's Lionel Messi as his pick for the best player in the world.
Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao