Football: Workmanlike Brazil can lift World Cup, says Zico

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - Legendary Brazilian Zico says he is worried about Lionel Messi's Argentina but makes his own nation favourites to lift the football World Cup on home soil in July.

Speaking exclusively to AFP, the star of Brazil's exciting 1982 World Cup side, which slipped up against eventual champions Italy, said today's side were his favourites.

Even so, he said there would be pressure for the Selecao to perform before a fanatical home support.

But he said: "That's normal; there's always pressure playing for your country. France, Argentina, England, Germany and Italy have won at home - whereas Brazil haven't."

Brazil famously lost the deciding game in 1950 in the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro to Uruguay.

"If the other (host winners) had that pressure and won then why shouldn't Brazil"? come July, Zico, now 60, argued.

Today's generation is, he says, less flamboyant than even the 2002 winning side of Ronaldinho and Ronaldo.

"They don't play the beautiful game - they play efficiently. Well, Neymar plays beautiful stuff," he reflected, adding that coach Luiz Felipe Scolari knows how to obtain a winning blend.

He added that a crushing Confederations Cup win over Spain "has given motivation and confidence to fans and the team to go out and land the World Cup".

Standing in their way could be Argentina, who can boast Messi's mercurial talents, he warned.

"Argentina are Brazil's big rival owing to Messi. He can pull the strings and take Argentina to the title."

Zico, a world club champion with Flamengo who later coached Japan, insisted the World Cup would be a great occasion for Brazil, despite social tensions over the cost and poor public facilities.

Mass demonstrations marred last year's Confederations Cup dress rehearsal and although protests since then have been smaller they have also become more violent.

But Zico said: "The people have a right to protest if it is in an orderly fashion without resorting to violence."

He added that violence should be "severely punished".

Asked how he saw preparations four months out, Zico said he saw many positives.

"In terms of football, the stadiums, there won't be a problem - the pitches will be great.

"I don't know how things are going with the training centres, hotels, airports - which are the main problem.

"I think Brazil's main mistake has been not to make use of tourism - I don't see a project to bring in tourism during the World Cup and get people to know the country."

Brazil attracts only around six million tourists annually - less than the total who visit the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

One thing which has impressed Zico, though, is the refurbishment of the Maracana, which will host the July 13 final.

"It is wonderful, beautiful," he enthused.

Zico's generation was widely considered the most attractive Brazil has produced aside from the 1970 vintage led by Pele.

Asked if he regretted not lifting the World Cup, he said: "I tried hard to ensure it would happen but so many players haven't won it. You can't be selfish and want everything in life.

"I was at three World Cups and lost one game, never getting to a final. But that's football."

Zico reflected he never enjoyed being dubbed the "White Pele" as the standard bearer of the 1980s team.

"I never liked it - Pele is Pele. But I am proud that people remember me and compare me with him as he was the best."

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