Brazil legend Zico says Lionel Messi and Argentina pose the biggest threat to his country’s hopes of winning this summer’s Copa America on home soil.
The hosts are looking to add a ninth Copa America title to their collection, and their first since a 3-0 final win over Argentina in 2007.
Zico said he believed that team effort, rather than the best individual performance, will be the deciding factor in the tournament, but he is concerned by the prospect of an in-form Messi.
“Messi’s condition has been improving recently,” he told Goal.
“If he is in good form, they [Argentina] will be a really difficult opponent.
“It is not necessarily the fact that big players like Messi and Neymar make you win. It is more important to have strength as a team.
“Chile won the title in 2015 and 2016 back-to-back, and most of their players were playing as the main players at clubs in Europe and other countries abroad.”
Brazil have an enviable record in home tournaments – they have hosted the Copa America four times, and won it on all four occasions.
However, their last win on home soil came way back in 1989. Far more fresh in the memory is their humiliating exit from the 2014 World Cup, obliterated 7-1 by Germany in front of their own fans.
“When the tournament is held in your own country, the expectation of the nation is huge, but players can play with comfort,” Zico said.
“People don’t think it makes much of a difference, but it actually has a big impact.
“When you hear cheers at the moment you need a bit of a push, players can react to that and perform at their best.”
Despite his own glittering performances, Zico never won an international tournament as a player. His best results in the famous yellow shirt were third-place finishes in the 1978 World Cup and the following year’s Copa America.
This time, Brazil are going in without their star man following the news that Neymar will miss the tournament after rupturing ankle ligaments in a warm-up game against Qatar.
But Zico knows his country’s proud history as well as anyone, and he hopes they can live up to the pressure without their key player.
“The history of Brazil goes from Pele to Garrincha, Didi, Tostao, Gerson, then to all of us who followed them,” Zico said.
“It’s so important to be chosen for the national team. For the Copa America, for the World Cup, or just friendly matches, it’s such an honour to reach that stage and be chosen for the team.
“People expect players to wear Brazil’s shirt, win the title with pride, and keep winning. You have to have the mental strength to get over this pressure.”
Brazil get their campaign underway against Bolivia on Saturday, before further group games against Venezuela and Peru.