Rio de Janeiro recently hosted the Laureus Sports Awards and provided a forum for World Cup legends to discuss the World Cup in 2014. Former Dutch captain Ruud
Gullit, 1966 World Cup champion Bobby Charlton, Marcel Desailly of the 1998 French World Cup team and the German
Franz Beckenbauer, World Cup winner as both a player and a coach, attended.
"Holland," Gullit said with a smile when asked what team will win in 2014, "of course."
"Brazil is favored," Charlton said.
Asked about Germany's chances of winning, Beckenbauer answered, "Brazil has a huge advantage over Germany in this World Cup because of their home-field advantage."
Host countries have an edge in every World Cup. The host country has won the final six times, but not since the 1998 tournament in France. In 2010, host country South Africa failed to pass through the group stages.
"We hoped," Beckenbauer said, "that an African team would make the breakthrough in South Africa. They have improved recently and we hope they can make the finals."
In terms of winning as the host country, five-time champion Brazil has a greater chance of doing it than South Africa had. An African team has yet to make the World Cup semifinals.
"Ghana almost did it last time," Ghanaian-French defender Desailly said. "But knowing the potential for African football, this is a problem. I believe there is a lot of work to do in every single league in Africa. They need players that play for their local teams and are able to deliver performance at the highest level. Three games in the first round [of the World Cup] takes a lot of energy. But if you are a local player in Ghana or from the Ivory Coast, the level of the pressure takes up all the energy. Then they enter the first round, they go to the second round, and because they are not professional players -- and in Africa you only have two, three, four players who are top-class -- it's not enough to think of winning a World Cup."
Desailly built on the importance of world-class players when talking about the Brazilian hosts.
"They don't have the top-class players they used to," he said. "Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Cafu, they were confirmed top-class players in European clubs and consideration worldwide was set. Neymar doesn't have it. He has the potential, but we are not sure he is going to be able to perform when he's facing European football or international games."
For Brazilians, success in the World Cup isn't just about winning: equally significant is winning with style. More important still in 2014 will be putting on a successful tournament.
"The opportunity [to host] the World Cup," Desailly said, "is very good for them. We hope Brazil will do well because indirectly when you are a winner, and this happened to France in 1998 after we won the World Cup, it grows positive energy in the country. I don't know if it'll induce the economy of the country, but at least people will be much more motivated to invest on a more positive attitude. I hope Brazil and their economy will benefit from the success of their national team."
"They need to finish building the stadiums," Beckenbauer joked, referencing reports that the stadiums won't be ready.
"But Brazilians," he added, "don't need foreign influences to host. The most important thing is that Brazil breathes football more than anyone."
Soccer America on Twitter:
Follow Soccer America | Francis Langbein
Google+: Soccer America
Facebook: Soccer America