Former Portugal captain Luis Figo believes Brazil are the favourites to win the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar.
All 32 teams competing in the marquee event have played at least one match so far and based on what he has seen, the former Portuguese superstar thinks Brazil have looked the most promising.
Figo, who is in Mumbai as part of Viacom18’s broadcast team, spoke to a group of journalists and shared his views on the big upsets so far in Qatar, Neymar’s injury concern, the legacies of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, and more.
Scroll.in was part of the interaction and spoke to the 50-year-old, who captained Portugal to the World Cup semifinals in 2006.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
We have seen a couple of big upsets, so to speak, in the first week of the World Cup. What are your thoughts on the results so far?
On paper, such results always seem surprising, but if you saw the match between Saudi Arabia and Argentina, it wasn’t really surprising. If you analyse that match, Argentina could have finished off the contest in the first half itself but they didn’t have much luck. Then in the second half, Saudi Arabia were really committed and played like a team. For me, that result was not a surprise. Japan’s performance against Germany in the second half was probably a bit surprising. Germany could have finished off the game too and when you don’t do that, these things can happen. Japan played very well in the second half and deserved the win. So it depends on each game. Football is not a theory, you have to show it on the pitch for 90 minutes.
Do you think teams like Saudi Arabia, who were perhaps not rated as highly, have a realistic chance of going deep in the tournament?
Well, sincerely, I don’t think so. I don’t think they can reach the semis or final. The first step is to advance from the group stage and if they can do that, I think it’ll be a great tournament for them.
Do you the victories for teams like Saudi Arabia, Japan and Iran in the first round of this World Cup are a reflection of the growing stature of Asian football?
I think it’s good for football overall. I’m very happy for Iran because their country is going through a very difficult situation. Anything can happen in football if you have talent, passion, hard work and commitment. You can win even if you’re playing against the best team in the world. But it’s important to be consistent, because it doesn’t mean much if you win just one game.
Based on what you have seen so far, who do you think are the contenders to win the title?
It’s always good to start on a winning note but this is a long tournament. Each game is a final, you have to think like that. Spain, England and France were really strong in the first round of matches. But you have to wait and see.
Which team do you think will win the World Cup this time?
Brazil. I would love to see Portugal win and of course, they can. But honestly, I think Brazil is the strongest team. I liked how they played in the second half against Serbia, they were fast and aggressive with and without the ball. They created a lot of chances. But it’s not just the last game, they have great depth in their squad which is very important.
Neymar injured his ankle in the match against Serbia and could miss the rest of the group stage. How do you think that will impact Brazil?
I don’t know how bad his injury is. Of course, Neymar is Neymar and you can’t have a player with the same quality. But they have so many top players on their bench and if Neymar rests for a couple of games and returns fresh, it’ll add great value to their team.
Portugal won their first match – what are your thoughts on their squad and their prospects in the tournament?
It was a good start in terms of the result. It’s always important to start with a win, being at the top of your group early gives you confidence for the rest of the tournament. Of course, there are always some areas to improve. The more you play, the more you understand things. Ghana isn’t the toughest opponent historically, but Portugal can play much better.
When it comes to Portugal, the talk has revolved mostly around Cristiano, but there are several more talented players in their ranks. Is there any player in particular who you think can help Portugal win the title?
Yeah, I think we have a very good team, with players who compete in the best leagues around the world. We have Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix, Joao Cancelo, Pepe, Ruben Dias, and so many others. In terms of talent, Portugal is one of the best teams in the competition. But let’s see what we can do in the next games. Of course, in the knockouts, you are out if you have one bad day. It’s not easy to win the World Cup, there are a lot of factors that come into play. But yes, we have a lot of hope.
What are your thoughts on Portugal’s progress over the past few decades?
Well, we are a country that cannot compete with England and Spain in terms of financial conditions of clubs. We have to focus on producing players. But we always have youngsters who want to take up the sport and our clubs at the grassroots level work very well. We have good coaches, facilities and competitions, which are important tools for success. We always produce talent.
Ronaldo and Messi are considered two of the greatest football players in history. If their careers end without a World Cup title, do you think they can be included in the same conversation as Pele and Maradona?
Yes, of course. Winning a World Cup depends on a lot more than just individual quality. Sure, winning a world or European title is prestigious but if they don’t, that doesn’t mean everything else they achieved in their careers isn’t historic. So it depends on each individual’s point of view. I don’t like to compare anyone because generations are different, football players are different, opponents are different. I think they’ve built incredible careers in the last 15 years. Of course, if they win a World Cup, it’ll be in our memory forever, but you can’t forget what all they’ve done over the years.
The last World Cup you played in was Cristiano’s first, and now he has made history by becoming the first man to score in five different World Cups. Back then, did you imagine he would go on to achieve everything he has?
One can’t predict anything, but you could see back then that he has a lot of talent and could achieve big things. You never know what might happen in a player’s career, because there are so many factors involved like injuries but yes, with the talent he showed, we saw that he could have an impressive career.
How difficult is it for a player to switch from club to international football?
I think it’s a pleasure and honour. Every player loves to compete for their country. It’s a big competition. You just have to tweak your chip [in your head] in terms of the moment, that’s it. But yeah, I think everyone is proud and honoured to play for their country.
What are your thoughts on Indian football? Do you follow it?
Unfortunately no, because in Europe we don’t get much of a chance to watch Indian football. But I would like to see the sport grow here, not just cricket (laughs). You need time to develop it and have to start from the grassroots. It’s not just about bringing famous football players here to promote the game and then nothing else. I started from the grassroots myself and know that you need good coaches, facilities and competitions to improve. If you don’t have that, it’s impossible.
Luis Figo is a part of Viacom18 Sports expert panel for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. The football World Cup is being broadcast on Sports18 and JioCinema in India.