Brazilian soccer great Pele asked his countrymen today to stop jeering the national team a year before the country hosts the World Cup.
Brazil, the record five-time world champion, has fallen to No. 22 in the world, its lowest standing ever in global governing body FIFA’s national team rankings, and fans have voiced criticism during recent exhibition games.
Brazil on June 15 opens the Confederations Cup, a two-week warm-up tournament. The eight-team event is the only competitive soccer Brazil will play before opening the World Cup on June 12, 2014.
“Let’s not boo the Brazil national team,” Pele said at an event to unveil the official countdown clock for the World Cup at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro. “We are still starting, we still have one year to go. This is just the kickoff.”
Fans have jeered the national team in two of its last three games, a pair of 2-2 draws against Chile and England. In the England match, played at the Maracana stadium, the venue for the final game of the World Cup, national team coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was barraged with cries of ’’donkey’’ from the bleachers. Brazil three days ago defeated 1998 world champion France 3-0 in Porto Alegre.
Pele, the only player to win three World Cups, said the current squad has enough talented players but hasn’t yet gelled as a unit. He blamed former coach Mano Menezes, who was fired earlier this year, for failing to build a solid base. He said Scolari, who coached Brazil to its last World Cup success in 2002, and his assistant, Carlos Alberto Pereira, coach of the 1994 winning team, are capable of turning things around.
“They are coaches who have a lot of experience,” said Pele. “This Confederations Cup will be good for that because we have individuals but what we do need is an organized team which plays together.”
Brazil opens its Confederations Cup against Japan in Brasilia before playing Mexico and four-time world champion Italy. Pele said victory against Asian champion Japan, which last week became the first team to qualify for the World Cup, isn’t guaranteed.
“Japan isn’t a traditional football country, one of the big names like England or France,” Pele said. “Everyone thinks it will be easy but Japan has a great national team, a team that’s been playing together for two years.”
Pele also spoke about Neymar, who earlier this month left Santos, the club where Pele spent much of his career, for Barcelona in a 57 million-euro ($76 million) transfer. Neymar, 21, leads Brazil’s attack.
“I think it was very good for Neymar to have this opportunity to go to Barcelona,” Pele said. He added the striker had chances to move to England’s Premier League earlier in his career but wouldn’t have been suited to English soccer.