By MARCO SIBAJA
2013-12-06 03:01 AM
COSTA DO SAUIPE, Brazil (AP) -- Past world champions gathering in Brazil for Friday's World Cup draw are betting on the hosts to win next year's tournament on home soil.
A day before the draw that determines the tournament's schedule, some former players gave their opinion on what might happen when the competition starts in just over six months.
England striker Geoff Hurst, who netted a hat trick for England in the 1966 final, said Brazil will be the team to beat.
"I think for me Brazil, being the home country, with a fantastic record, must be looked at as favorites," Hurst said. "I think that for anybody looking to succeed in the World Cup, they will have to beat Brazil to do it. They are a formidable opposition on their own grounds."
Brazil striker Bebeto, who won the 1994 World Cup, told a news conference the home crowd will make a big difference and give Brazil a huge boost next year. Carlos Alberto Torres, who won the 1970 title, was not so optimistic, saying there was a lot of work left for the Brazil squad.
The 2014 World Cup will feature all teams that have won the tournament in the past, dating back to 1930. It will also unite most of the top players in the world, with the most significant exception being Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Among the stars in Brazil will be Lionel Messi of Argentina, Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Brazil's young sensation Neymar, who is key for the host's hopes of lifting the trophy.
"If Neymar plays at his best and is the player of the tournament, then Brazil will win the title," said three-time FIFA player of the year Ronaldo, a World Cup winner with Brazil in 1994 and 2002.
Friday's draw will determine where and when all the past champions and their stars will be playing next year.
"Of course there will be tough national teams, but playing at home with the support of the fans is something that is priceless," said Bebeto, Romario's partner in Brazil's attack in the 1994. "This Brazilian group has shown that it has what it takes to win and the fans will make all the difference."
The Brazilian crowd gave Brazil a huge boost during this year's Confederations Cup, a tournament it won with five straight wins, including 3-0 against Spain in the final. Fans had been jeering the national team in friendlies, but were fully behind it as soon as the warm-up tournament started.
France was the last nation to win the World Cup at home when it beat Brazil in the 1998 final. That Brazilian team was coached by Mario Zagallo, who said Brazil "is improving gradually" and will be a top contender next year.
Right back Torres, Brazil's captain in 1970, was the dissenting voice.
"There is still a lot of work to do in the national team," he said. "We've had better national teams which were not able to win the World Cup. Playing at home with the support of the fans doesn't guarantee that we will win the title. I'm optimistic, but I'm also realistic."