The hosting of the 2014 World Cup is “a great opportunity” for Brazil, the country’s all-time great Pele said.
Pele revealed his confidence that the tournament will be a memorable one for all the right reasons while also backing Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Brazil team to handle the huge pressure of being hosts.
Brazil’s organization of the World Cup has been marred by negative headlines about the struggle to get some of the 12 stadiums finished on time.
The threat of violent street demonstrations of the sort that overshadowed last year’s Confederations Cup has added to the tension, but Pele believes Brazil will get it right.
“This is a great opportunity. It will be fantastic for Brazil,” he said.
“I think after we had the experience of the Confederations Cup the government has been better organized for the World Cup. So I hope we will have an excellent World Cup. We deserve it.
“As a Brazilian I feel sorry because you have two or three big opportunities to showcase the country—the Confederations Cup, the World Cup and the Olympic Games (in Rio de Janeiro in 2016). I think this will be a great opportunity to show the country, to make money, to get tourism.
“And it’s important that the demonstrations do not damage everything, so we are going to work hard.”
Winner of the World Cup three times, in 1958, 1962 and 1970, Pele said that the one tournament that left its mark on him more than any other was the 1966 competition in England, when he was kicked off the park and Brazil bowed out at the group stage.
At least he is not associated with Brazil’s greatest failure — their defeat to Uruguay in the deciding game in 1950, the last time the country hosted the tournament.
In contrast, Pele’s childhood idol Zizinho was part of that team and became a symbol of the 2-1 loss which traumatized the huge country.
The pressure on Scolari’s team to deliver this time on home soil is enormous, and Barcelona star Neymar, just 22, carries the hopes of a nation more than any other.
Pele, who was just 17 when he rose to international prominence at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, admits that the fear of failure this time around is massive.
“This is Neymar’s first World Cup and nobody knows exactly what is going to happen. It is a big responsibility for him,” said Pele.
“But the best thing for Neymar was to come to play in Spain, to play in Europe, the best thing for Brazil. It was like him going off to university for six months and then coming back to play with Brazil, because then they come with more experience. That was fantastic for him.
“The problem of pressure is not only a problem for Neymar. It is a problem for the whole team, no doubt. Of course, the country, the people, they want to win.
“In Brazil we had one bad experience—in 1950 when we played the World Cup in Brazil and lost to Uruguay. Now the people are afraid of the same thing happening. But I think it will be different now.”
Pele, who earned his nickname ‘O Rei’ (The King) after scoring a hat-trick against France in the 1958 semifinals, brackets the Selecao among the favourites, but sees Chile as potential dark horses in the tournament, which gets underway on June 12.
“We have two or three teams who right now, three months before the World Cup, we can say are very good. I’m thinking of Germany, because I have seen them play many times; Spain, because they have had the same team for eight years, and of course Brazil.
“But you must respect Italy, and in South America Chile is the best team today. The World Cup is always a box of surprises.”
Brazil, who will come up against Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon in Group A, could potentially meet Chile—who are in Group B—in the last 16.