Former Portugal, Real Madrid and Barcelona star Luis Figo is a Laureus Sport for Good Foundation Ambassador these days. Figo is looking forward to the World Cup in Brazil starting on 12 June. Figo represented his country at the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cup™ events.
While 2002 was a first round exit, in 2006 the Portuguese reached the semi-finals. It is a memory Figo fondly recalls, “Well, it’s always disappointing when you arrive so close to play the final of the Word Cup and you miss it. After so much work it’s a long way to achieve the semi-final and you lose, so it is disappointing, but football is like that. I think you have to be taking the positive things, what’s happened in that World Cup and stay with that.”
Figo says playing for one’s country is very different compared to the day-to-day activities at club level, “Well, there’s some difference, of course, if you are a patriot. Of course, at a club you have so many games during the year, so many competitions; the national team you just play ten, 12 games a year, so you start with that difference. And of course, the feeling of defending for Portugal, 11 million passionate people that are behind the national team, and to try to achieve a fantastic moment with your national team is always a goal that you have. The competitions are different too, like I said before. The World Cup, for me, is the best competition in terms of nations, and to play in club football right now the Champions League is the competition that gives you more prestige. But on the other hand it’s all football and you are happy because you win and you have the chance to play on a high level.
How does Figo feel Portugal will fare in Brazil? “Well, I think Portugal can make a good tournament depending on how the players arrive in physical condition in the World Cup. But, of course, Portugal depends a lot on Cristiano Ronaldo, so it depends if he is fit or not, and depending on his performance in the World Cup. I think Portugal is not in the line of the favourites in national teams, but probably they are in the second line. But it is like everything; if you start well in the competition and you do the first phase of groups well, you start to win confidence and everything can happen after that. But right now I think there are other national teams with more potential than Portugal.”
Figo believes that in Ronaldo, the Portuguese have one of the best players in the world in their ranks, “Yes, he’s one of them. I think he wants the Golden Ball. He had a fantastic season this year too. It’s obviously depending on the choice of each person, but I think his performance in the last years has been amazing and for Portugal he is the Number one. In my opinion no one is above Eusebio. But probably Ronaldo will beat some records and for sure he will be remembered. I think it’s important, of course, if you do that in a small country like Portugal it helps to be more important, but right now I think he needs to have that distinction in terms of what people think about his qualities. To be remembered like Pelé or Maradona? Well, if you want to be remembered like that in the World Cups, of course, you have to win, but in his general image and the prestige he has, I don’t think he needs that.
So, can Portugal actually go all the way then? Figo says it will not be an easy battle, “It’s very difficult, because it’s a long way to the final and our country has 11 million people, so compared with Brazil, Argentina, Spain, France and the other ones who can have 50 or 60 million, the possibility of choosing players is less, so that shows that Portugal probably have difficulty choosing the 18-20 players for the World Cup. If you go to Brazil they don’t have that problem, they can have two teams and that makes the difference.”
There is also bad news for Spain in the opinion of Figo, who does not believe the defending champions and double European champions will retain the World Cup, “I don’t think Spain are going to win this World Cup. I do not think they have the quality to do it. It’s difficult, but it’s not impossible. They have an amazing team, fantastic players, but it’s always depending how they arrive at the World Cup because, you know, the Spanish League is very tough, it is a lot of games, very hard and if they arrive fresh they have more chance. I think it’s the last chance for some players to play another World Cup, like Xavi and Alonso, but I think Spain have talented players coming behind and there is not going to be a problem for the future. So I do not think it is going to be a problem to change and do a renovation of the team.”
And now it is time for predictions. Who does Luis Figo think will be crowned World Cup champions? ” Well, first Brazil, after that Germany, after that probably, Argentina or Spain. And after that probably Portugal, Holland and those kind of teams. After 2006, Germany made a renovation in their national team with younger players that were very good. I think Argentina was more or less the same. There are a lot of new players and those kind of countries for me are favourites because they have the experience to play in high level. They have the experience to always reach semi-finals and finals of the World Cups and I think that helps them too in the important moments to overcome their difficulties and get themselves into a position to win the tournament. Partly the talent and quality of the team and partly the experience of playing in so many World Cups helps at times like that.”
Portugal begin their World Cup campaign on the 16th of June against Germany. Figo was speaking to Laureus.com