Luis Figo has seen enough in the busy first week of the 2022 FIFA World Cup to zero in on his team to go all the way in Qatar. “Brazil,” Figo, as unhesitant in picking his choice as he was in manoeuvring the ball, said. “It’s the most strong team.”
The 2000 Ballon d’Or winner who led Portugal to the 2006 World Cup semi-final put his prophecy down to not only the five-time champions’ dazzling opening display against Serbia, but also the depth of class and quality in the Brazilian lineup and the bench.
“I liked the second half (against Serbia). They played very fast, very aggressive—with the ball and without it. They played an offensive game,” Figo, in the city as part of Viacom18’s expert panel for the World Cup, said on Saturday. “But it’s not only about the last game. I think in terms of players, they have two teams. And sometimes in this competition that is really important.”
That is the reason why the former Barcelona and Real Madrid legend doesn’t believe the ankle injury to Neymar—it will keep the star forward out of the team’s next group match and likely more—will prove to be a big dent on the Brazilian charge.
“He can rest,” Figo said, smiling, “and be fit for the rest (of the tournament). I don’t know how hard the injury is and how he will come back. Of course, Neymar is Neymar, you cannot put another with the same quality. But they have so many top players on the bench. And if he (Neymar) rests two games and then comes fresh, I think it will be a very important value for Brazil.”
Among the greatest to have played the game, Figo observed “nothing different from the usual” tactically so far in this World Cup, with “a lot of teams playing with 3 in the back, 5 in the midfield”. Argentina beaten by Saudi Arabia was not so much a surprise for him “if you analyse the game”, because in the second half “Saudi Arabia was really committed and played like a team”.
“It was more of a surprise what Japan did in the second half,” Figo said of Japan’s two second-half strikes in the 2-1 win over Germany. “Germany could have finished it but when you don’t kill the game, this can happen.”
After Saudi Arabia and Japan, Iran—with their dramatic 2-0 victory against Wales—added to the rich Asian flavour in this World Cup spread. If it were to be a reflection of the growing stature of Asian teams in world football, they will need to be “consistent” in stringing together such results, felt Figo.
“It’s good for football that other confederations too have this success in terms of results,” he said. “I’m very happy for Iran, because the country is passing through a difficult situation and I have one of my best friends coaching Iran (Portuguese Carlos Queiroz). I know the difficulties they must have had to prepare. They showed proud, they showed talent. And if you put talent, passion and commitment, you can win any game, even if it’s against the best team in the world.”
On Portugal, who kicked off their campaign beating Ghana 3-2, “we have a lot of hope”, said Figo. “In terms of talent, it is one of the best teams in the competitions,” he added. “We have some very good players playing in the best clubs of the world.”
Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t in one at the moment after the final nail on his looming Manchester United exit was hammered two days before Portugal’s opener. Figo’s last World Cup in 2006—he captained the side to a fourth-place finish, their best since 1966—happened to be Ronaldo’s first.
“You could see that moment that he had a lot of talent and that he could achieve big things,” Figo said.
Missing from that “big things” accomplishments is a world crown, both for Ronaldo and his GOAT contemporary Lionel Messi. This may have been billed as a legacy-defining World Cup for the duo in their mid- and late-thirties, but not for Figo.
“Winning is not always depending on the quality of the individual; it depends on a lot of other stuff. Of course, it’s more prestigious if you win a world title or a European title. But it doesn’t mean that their career was not history in football,” Figo, 50, said.
“I don’t like to compare because generations are different, football players are different and opponents are different, but I think in the last 15 years they were making incredible careers. So if they won a World Cup, of course it will be in the memory forever. But you cannot forget what they did in the past.”