Zagallo won the World Cup as a player in 1958 and 1962, then as a manager in 1970 and assistant manager in 1994, a track record that has helped make him one of the most respected figures in world football.
Brazil are being tipped by some as favourites for the competition, but Argentina, Germany and Spain are still a step ahead, the 82-year-old told FourFourTwo, although he did expect Luiz Felipe Scolari's side to improve by next June. England? France? Holland? “I can’t see how,” he said.
At 82, Zagallo’s health doesn’t allow him to be as sharp as he was in 1970, when he coached Brazil’s best-ever team, or even in 1998, when he took the Selecao to the final. But his weekends at home watching football allow him to say he knows the vast majority of the players and teams coming to his nation next year.
“The special players are very few; [Lionel] Messi, [Cristiano] Ronaldo and Neymar. They can change things. The others depend on their teams much more,” he says in the sidelines of the World Cup draw to be hosted on Friday at the posh Costa do Sauipe resort.
“Brazil’s midfield needs some serious development, the Confederations Cup is just a dress rehearsal and victory there means little for the World Cup,” he said.
He is also unsure of striker Fred, who is almost certain to be a member of Scolari’s squad next year. “He is not a modern player, he is injury prone and we just don’t know how well he could do,” Zagallo told FFT.
“I am always an optimist when it comes to Brazil, we have ruled world football for a very long time. But we can’t think just having the World Cup at home will be enough. There is a lot to improve in our team and they know it.
"I believe we will be able to play at the same level of the best teams by then, but we still have to walk that path for excellence. Spain, Germany and Argentina are better.”
Zagallo believes European teams will struggle to do well in Brazil. The temperatures, the distances travelled and the supporters will all be against them. “Spain and Germany are only favourites because of their players, but history is not on their side,” he says.
“England, Holland and France all have good players. The problem is, I can’t see them having enough to win.”
And Zagallo wasn't alone in doubting the host nation's chances. While former internationals Bebeto and Ronaldo insisted Brazil were clear favourites to win during a press conference on Thursday, 1970 Brazil captain Carlos Alberto just looked lost.
As soon as he had a chance to speak, he rejected the blind optimism of locals. “If hosting the World Cup were enough, Italy would have won 1990 and Germany would have been champions in 2006. Brazil needs a lot and they know it because I have told them myself,” he said.
Later on, Alberto told FFT that the optimism and confidence within Scolari’s team could contribute to Brazil's downfall in a similar way to in 1950, when they were infamously defeated in the final by unfancied Uruguay at the Maracana stadium.
“Spain, Germany and Argentina are better than us now. We have to improve until the World Cup. The wave of support after the Confederations Cup title is a problem,” Alberto warned.
“Getting to the final will be very difficult for Brazil. The team needs more pace, more consistency in the midfield and strikers we can trust. We don’t seem to have those strikers yet, we have Neymar doing a great job and a few other players doing well. To win the World Cup you need more than that.”
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