Johannesburg: Football great Pele has singled out Brazil and Spain as the strongest teams at the World Cup, yet wants to see an African side take on his country in the final.
"At the moment, we have Spain in Europe and Brazil in South America. They are the two best teams — no doubt," he told The Associated Press in an interview on Thursday on the eve of the opening match.
"I am very proud to see the World Cup in Africa ... FIFA worked hard for it, and many people like me worked hard for it," he said. "It would be fantastic to see Brazil playing an African team in the final."
Pele said Argentina was likely to improve after an erratic qualifying campaign, while noticing the major football powers remain split between those with efficiency and those with flair.
"There are certain teams like Italy, Germany and England that play a very good game, a strong game. They are defensive and decisive but ... it's difficult to imagine them playing the beautiful game," he said. Pele listed Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Brazil as those with the more entertaining style.
Pele said the sport's increasing globalization has narrowed the gap between teams at the World Cup in South Africa. While that made matches more competitive, it counted against the emergence of an unheralded player, and that coaches are better prepared to negate opponents.
Brazilians Kaka and Robinho along with Argentina's Lionel Messi remain the tournament's most dangerous players, he said, while upsets could come from countries with disciplined tactics like the United States and Paraguay.
Pele, who turns 70 this year, played in four World Cups for Brazil, and helped his country win three. He played most of his club career at Brazil's Santos before retiring at the New York Cosmos.
Pele spoke to the news media Thursday during the launch of a sportswear company that sells clothes and sports equipment under his name.
Company officials said they were hoping to sign several national teams to the new label before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. They said products include a ball designed for dirt pitches and a reinforced football sock to help barefoot players on sand and uneven ground.
"We used to play barefoot when we were kids and we'd use anything for a ball, even a coconut," Pele said.
The launch featured African traditional dancers and a five-a-side match with local school children on a dirt pitch created on a construction site behind a shopping mall.
He chatted to the young players and briefly joined the dancers before leaving.