No figure looms larger over this World Cup than Pele. Not Ronaldo. Not Messi. Not Neymar. If there is a face of this tournament, it is that of the patron saint of soccer, the ageless icon who led Brazil to three World Cup triumphs and helped spread its gospel in the USA.
Two days before the tournament kicks off, Pele reflected on the month ahead in an interview with USA TODAY Sports.
"I have confidence Brazil will be in the final," Pele says. He also has been impressed with Spain, Germany, Argentina and what he calls his surprise team -- Chile.
He is not so sure the USA can emerge from the "Group of Death," with games against Ghana, Portugal and Germany, but he is rooting for the Americans. "They have a good team," Pele says. "But the group is very tough."
Pele, 73, also is concerned that protests about Brazil's spending on the World Cup -- $11 billion, including $4 billion on 12 new and refurbished stadiums -- might disrupt the event.
He supports those protesting excessive spending and corruption, saying he wants better schools, hospitals and opportunities as well, but he hopes politics doesn't take over the field. "This is not the moment to lose the big opportunity that we have. ... It's not a football foul," he says.
It has been 64 years since Brazil first hosted the World Cup. This month, new generations of fans will see what the beautiful game means to this nation, and they'll learn about a legend.
Throughout the World Cup, Pele's daughter, Kely Nascimento-DeLuca, a photographer, is filming a behind-the-scenes look at her father at home in Santos, São Paulo. Though Pele has lived in the spotlight for much of his life, Nascimento-DeLuca says few really know much about her father beyond soccer. "I hope I'm going to show what he's really like and how funny he is," she says. "Nothing is scheduled, it truly will be a video blog of his experiences, day by day."
At that, Pele interrupts his daughter, teases her about how hard she's going to work him. "I used to be the father of Kely," he says. "Now I am her son."
Each day, Nascimento-DeLuca will post short video episodes on TheRealPele.com, showing his private life -- his love of music, cooking, fishing and his grandchildren -- and his football life.
"Being in his shadow is surreal," she says about the schedule he keeps and the fanfare that follows. "I don't know how he does it. I'm exhausted."
The reason behind the project is a selfish one, Nascimento-DeLuca says. She wants to introduce her father to today's generation, the kids who play soccer with her children at home in New York.
"I want to show them what he's really like and do this by speaking their language which is on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook," she says.
Soccer-loving parents of this generation grew up knowing Pele through his time with the New York Cosmos of the old North American Soccer League. "I am very proud, because I am part of the growth of soccer in the United States," Pele says about those years. The World Cup came to the USA in 1994, and a thriving pro league followed.
The grass-roots youth system led to a dominant women's national team, he says. And perhaps, someday, a men's team will reach the same level.
Original headline: Plate is full for pele
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