Dubai — Brazilian legend Pele says he is confident of Brazil’s chances at the upcoming World Cup and expects injured star Neymar to be fit to lead the side in Russia.
In Dubai the 77-year-old, who has been in poor health recently, put his faith in Paris Saint-Germain striker Neymar recovering from a fractured foot in time to lead Brazil to a possible sixth global football title.
"We don’t know exactly what is going to happen, but I think for the World Cup he’s going to be in shape because his injury is not so bad," said Pele, the only person to have won the World Cup three times as a player.
"I wish he has the same luck I had in the World Cup."
Neymar, the world’s most expensive player, has not played since breaking a metatarsal bone in his right foot on February 25 in a Ligue 1 match against Marseille. He said last week he was still recovering from surgery but expected to be fit for the World Cup from June 14 to July 15.
In the last World Cup, on home soil four years ago, Brazil were humiliated 7-1 by eventual winners Germany in a semi-final but Pele feels the team under "psychologist" Tite [Brazil’s coach], which breezed through South American qualifying, can go all the way.
"I am confident because Tite, the new coach, now [has] had a little time to set up the team.
"We have a lot of excellent players in Europe. The problem is to put the team together.
"I think we’re going to have a good team in the World Cup."
Pele said he expected few surprises at the tournament, identifying Lionel Messi’s Argentina, Germany, England and France as potential challengers — though he did not mention 2010 world champions Spain or European laureates Portugal, led by Cristiano Ronaldo. However, he said "football is a box of surprises".
As for his health problems — Pele cancelled a trip to England in January due to "exhaustion", though his spokesman denied he had been admitted to hospital — Pele said there was little cause for concern.
"I cannot play in the next World Cup but I feel good," he said with a hearty laugh.
"I had an injury, then I had to make a surgery for the head of my hip, then I had to replace [it], then I had a little problem with my meniscus, but now I’m OK, I am ready, in good shape!"