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Zidane, Kempes in agreement: best to face toughest tests early

By Reuters in Costa do Sauipe, Brazil | China Daily | Updated: 2013-12-07 06:54

World Cup legends say it's crucial to build momentum from the start

The key to a successful World Cup campaign is to start off against tougher opponents rather than easier ones, World Cup winners Mario Kempes of Argentina and Zinedine Zidane of France both agreed on Thursday.

"From the beginning of a World Cup, you have to have the right mindset and you can't feel like it's best to play against the small teams first," Zidane told reporters on the eve of the draw for the 2014 edition in Brazil.

Zidane, Kempes in agreement: best to face toughest tests early

Zinedine Zidane, who starred for France in the 1998 World Cup, addresses the media ahead of the 2014 World Cup draw at Costa do Sauipe resort in Brazil on Thursday. Sergio Moraes / Rueters

"It's best to start against the stronger teams because the challenge is so tough, you may as well start against the best."

Kempes, still with a mass of thick hair but without the moustache he famously sported in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, agreed and said he was delighted the finals were back in South America for the first time since his nation's triumph.

"We can prove that we can organize a great finals here as they do in Europe," he said.

"It is an extraordinary opportunity for us and can move South American football in the right direction.

"I agree with what Zinedine said: the best thing is to start against the strongest teams because that way you can't rest on your laurels.

"If you start by thinking that some teams are easier than others, that is not the best way to prepare.

"I think Argentina has three good options to win the World Cup. We have a good team with an excellent coach and Lionel Messi, the best player in the world. Everything is set up for us to be successful."

Kempes scored twice when Argentina beat the Netherlands 3-1 in the 1978 final and Zidane did the same when France beat Brazil 3-0 in 1998 to lift the trophy, again at home.

They were among eight former players on a panel representing the eight World Cup-winning countries at a press event in Brazil.

Lothar Matthaeus, who captained West Germany when they won the 1990 World Cup, reckoned the current German side is good enough to become the first European team to lift the World Cup in South America.

"If the team plays at the same level it has been playing at lately, it has to be counted as one of the favorites. They have shown the highest standard and I hope that after 24 years they can win it and I believe they can," Matthaeus said.

Formidable opponent

But Geoff Hurst, the only man to score a hat-trick in a final when England won in 1966, said European teams would struggle to win the tournament but had to arrive believing they could.

"Whoever is going to win the World Cup is going to have to beat Brazil in Brazil, and they are a formidable opponent in their own country," he said.

"I think England and the others have to come with a winning mindset, but they have to be realistic. There have been six World Cups in Latin America and no European team has won any of them."

Among the eight panellists was 86-year-old Alcides Ghiggia, who like Zidane played and won against Brazil in a World Cup final.

Ghiggia is the last surviving member of the Uruguay team that lifted the World Cup in 1950 after they beat Brazil 2-1 at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro. His winning goal plunged Brazil into despair.

"I would like nothing more than another Brazil vs Uruguay final and for Uruguay to win it again," he said. "But I am very welcome in Brazil, they welcome me with open arms. It is like a second home to me."

For that to happen though, world champion Spain would have to be eliminated along the way and Fernando Hierro was not sure that would happen.

"Every team reaches a high point and a low point in its soccer history and right now, Spain is on a high with a great team and great players. I have every hope we can win the World Cup again," said the 45-year-old former Spain defender.

"We also flew in the face of history last time. We lost our first match and still became champions. This time we don't want to lose at all."

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