Hempstead, N.Y. – In the eyes of the greatest soccer player to ever play the game, the host nation is not the favorite to lift the World Cup trophy this summer.
Pele tells Yahoo Sports that he favors two European sides to lift the trophy in Brazil this summer over the host nation. Looking ahead to the kickoff of the tournament in the nation of his birth, Pele doesn't think that Brazil will win a sixth World Cup this summer.
“It is difficult to say, it is difficult because the World Cup is a box of surprises. There are teams that are there all the time like Italy, England, Argentina. All those countries – France too. In the moment, I've seen a lot of games. I follow some teams. Today, one month and a half, two months out – to me – the two best teams are Spain and Germany,” Pele said in an exclusive interview with Yahoo Sports at Hofstra University.
Spain will start the tournament in Group B with Chile, Australia and fellow 2010 World Cup finalists the Netherlands. Germany, meanwhile, will be in Group G with Portugal, Ghana and the United States.
“For me, of course, first I always think Brazil among the favorites. We have experience from the World Cup, these two teams have much respect, but if you play Brazil against Argentina, Brazil against France or Italy it'd be difficult. To talk about the best team in the moment, it doesn't mean that Spain or Germany would be champion.
"To win? I don't know. But I think the two best teams are Germany and Spain. They are better prepared for the World Cup.”
He sees flaws in this World Cup team for his homeland, despite a strong defense and a midfield that features players who can play from endline to endline. The issues are up top, where Pele and a host of legends have won global acclaim and fame for scoring goals.
“Always Brazil was a great attacking team, Pele, Didi, Ronaldinho, Romario – these are the first years that Brazil has a problem to set up the attack. The midfield back, Brazil is fantastic. Fantastic,” Pele said. “Neymar is a great young player but it's his first World Cup.”
There will be pressure on the Seleção this summer, especially given the enormity of the sport and what it means to the nation. It is pressure that might be Brazil's greatest enemy on the field and could take them down before the semifinal round.
He does see the Confederations Cup win last summer as a bit of a deep breath for the fanatical supporter base in the nation.
“We work hard to try and tell the people. The World Cup is tough anyway. We have two or three countries that have the World Cup and the home team lost – in 1950 we have the World Cup and Brazil lost. There's great pressure on Brazil, no doubt. Mixed in it is the political problem. That I think created a little more problem.”
"The pressure, because Brazilians are thinking just win. This is a problem. The World Cup we played in Brazil – Brazil lost. That is something that people think about it. The other side, we won the Confederations Cup,” Pele said. “That was fantastic. The pressure was almost the same and thank God, fortunately Brazil went to the final against Spain and won. That calmed it down a little bit.”
Considered the best player of all-time, Pele had 92 caps with the Brazilian national team during an incredible run that included three World Cup titles. He finished his career with a three-year stint in the NASL with the New York Cosmos, ushering in the modern soccer boom to the United States.
Pele spoke to Yahoo Sports as part of a promotional tour set up by the Cosmos, who won the NASL title last year. The Cosmos open their title defense this Sunday at their home home field at Hofstra. The team will give out Pele t-shirts to the first 5,000 fans in attendance.
Kristian R. Dyer writes for Metro New York and is a contributor to Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KristianRDyer