Football

Pele: Too much pressure on Neymar

He has scored seven goals in Brazil's nine successive friendly wins leading into the World Cup which starts tomorrow morning (Singapore time).

But Brazil star Neymar is too young to shoulder the pressure to deliver the hosts a sixth World Cup trophy, says football legend Pele, ahead of their opening game with Croatia in Sao Paulo.

Pele's comments came despite Neymar's impressive performances for Brazil at last year's Confederations Cup - the mini-dress rehearsal for the World Cup - which saw them overwhelm World Cup holders Spain 3-0 in the final with Neymar scoring a spectacular goal.

"Neymar is young," three-time World Cup winner Pele (above) told the BBC.

"It is a heavy pressure for him to get all the responsibility."

Pele, 73 and Brazil's record goalscorer with 77 goals, said coach Luiz Felipe Scolari - who coached Brazil to the last of their five World Cup trophies in 2002 - had succeeded in turning the team into an outstanding defensive unit, which has often been the weakness in the national side.

They have scored 30 goals and conceded just two in their nine straight wins since losing to fellow World Cup finalists Switzerland last August.

"For the first time in history, Brazil have a defence better than their attack," said Pele.

"The midfield back is fantastic. Very organised. I hope we can adjust from the midfield forward."

Indeed, Scolari has some thinking to do in midfield, where questions are being asked about the players who have formed his first-choice trio in that area since last year's triumphant Confederations Cup run.

In the 3-0 victory against Spain in the final, Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho provided the protection to the defence while Oscar was charged with offering the creative spark.

Those three played together in last Friday's 1-0 win against Serbia in Brazil's final warm-up game.

Most indications from their training camp in Teresopolis, 100km north of Rio de Janeiro, this week have been that Scolari will again field the trio in tomorrow morning's Group A opener against Croatia.

However, Paulinho, of English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur, was criticised for his performance against Serbia and Oscar has not rediscovered his best form since a poor second half of the club season with Chelsea.

Concern over the form of those alongside him means there will be greater emphasis on Gustavo, as Brazil try to deal with the considerable threat posed by a Croatian midfield containing Luka Modric of Real Madrid and Ivan Rakitic of Sevilla.

Wolfsburg star Gustavo, 26, started out as an attacker but has had to drop back to enjoy success at the highest level and will now fulfil a role carried out by the likes of Dunga and Gilberto Silva in great Brazil teams of the recent past.

"I'm not bothered about being recognised. What motivates me is the challenge and trying to reach our objectives," he said on Tuesday.

"The coach is always clear about what he wants from me, to focus on defending.

"We have to be prepared for every team, every opponent." - AFP.

World Cup