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Pele: Brazil to put 'problems' behind them and stage 'fantastic' World Cup

Story highlights

  • Pele confident Brazil will host a successful World Cup later this year
  • Mass protests and worries over infrastructure have blighted preparations
  • Football legend says players are blameless for these problems and should be supported
  • Believes Neymar will be better for having played with Barcelona

Brazilian legend Pele believes his country will rise above the problems which are blighting its preparations for football's global showpiece and put on a "fantastic" World Cup.

Demonstrations -- some violent -- have been taking place all over Brazil since last summer's Confederations Cup, raising concerns about security at the upcoming tournament.

They were originally organized to protest against increases in travel fares, but have since gone on to include demonstrations against staging the World Cup, corruption in government and a lack of social spending.

But Pele, who played in three winning Brazilian World Cup sides, is confident that once the competition -- which starts on June 12 -- begins these issues will become of secondary importance.

"We have had political problems," he told CNN. "But the World Cup is a big party and it will be fantastic."

Despite his status as a national hero, the 73-year-old Pele came under fire for his reported criticism of protests which flared up at last year's Confederations Cup and have continued on a sporadic basis ever since.

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    It also apparently put him at odds with the current idol of the Brazilian fans, Barcelona's Neymar, who said he was "inspired" by the mass mobilization, which has focused on poor quality public services while billions of dollars are being spent on the World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

    Pele was at pains to clarify his position.

    "I agree with him (Neymar) -- we accept of course we want the best for our country in terms of schools and hospitals -- but the players have nothing to do with this or political corruption," he said.

    "So it's wrong to boo the players like happened in the Confederations Cup, I repeat again they have nothing to do with corruption and the other problems.

    "We need to separate these things because the players always show off the best side of Brazil, let's support them -- because this is a good moment for us."

    Politics aside, Pele is hoping Neymar, who starred for his old club Santos before his big money move to Barcelona last summer, will benefit from playing in European club football to help Brazil a record sixth World Cup triumph.

    " A lot of Brazilians were annoyed when Santos sold him to Barcelona," he said. "But for Neymar it was fantastic as he gets more experience at the highest level and this will help the national team."

    Pele played a starring role in Brazil's triumphs in the finals of the 1958 and 1970 World Cups and is hoping the current team can take their own place in footballing history.

    But he is wary about tipping them as winners - "football is a box of surprises," he said-- pointing to Argentina, Italy, Spain and Germany as their most dangerous challengers.

    "But Brazilian football is still the best and most beautiful in the world," he added.

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