Paris – The pressure will be on new hero Neymar to end Brazil's fear of failing on home territory at this year's World Cup, according to the country's all-time great Pele.
Pele told AFP in an interview that the World Cup is a major opportunity for Brazil despite the nerves and dark talk of stadiums not being ready on time.
But Pele is worried about striker Neymar, who is carrying a nation's hopes into the tournament that starts in Rio de Janeiro on June 12.
“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, who hit international prominence as a 17-year-old at the 1958
finals in Switzerland.
The fear of failure is massive. Brazil has still not got over their defeat to Uruguay in the deciding game in 1950, the last time the country hosted the tournament.
Pele's childhood idol Zizinho was part of that team and became a symbol of the 2-1 loss which traumatised the country.
Neymar, 22, was right to join Barcelona last year, said the Brazil legend.
“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.
The 1950 finals was “a bad experience,” said Pele, who spoke to AFP on Sunday as the Coca-Cola FIFA World Cup trophy tour stopped off in Paris.
“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 semi-finals, brackets the Selecao among the favourites, but sees Chile as potential dark horses.
“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 Ä who are in Group B Ä in the last 16.
Confident that Luiz Felipe Scolari's team will handle the pressure, Pele added that he was sure Brazil will turn the tournament into a momentous event after months of 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 organised 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 says 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. – Sapa-AFP