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Pele sees U.S. becoming a World Cup threat

Pele acknowledges applause by crowd assembled in the

Pele acknowledges applause by crowd assembled in the John Cranford Adams Playhouse at Hofstra University after being awarded an honorary degree during four-day international soccer conference on Saturday, April 12, 2014. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Pele believes the United States can win the World Cup someday.


The only man on the planet to win three World Cups thinks this country has made great progress since he ignited a soccer boom after joining the Cosmos almost four decades ago.

"No doubt, no doubt," he said about U.S. chances after receiving an honorary doctorate of humane letters degree from Hofstra University on Friday. "When they played in Japan/Korea, the United States almost came to the final."

The Americans were a controversial handball call away from beating Germany in the 2002 quarterfinals.

"What the United States needs is luck to come to one final or to win the World Cup. The team is a very good team," he said, citing the growth domestically and that top Americans have played in Europe.

Coming close this summer will be difficult, if not impossible, because the U.S. is in a Group of Death with three countries that reached the 2010 second round -- Germany, Portugal and Ghana.

Playing on its own soil, Brazil is among the favorites, but the five-time world champions will be under close scrutiny by a critical public.

"This is difficult to say how much, but there is big pressure because Brazil is the country of football," Pele said. "When they play at home, the pressure is so big. Brazil has to be very well prepared psychologically because the Brazilian people, they don't think of Brazil losing in our own home."

Pele thinks Brazil can take the final victory lap in Rio de Janeiro July 13, but is concerned about the offensive attack.

"From the midfield back Brazil is very strong," he said. "They have a little problem to find the right way to play on attack. Brazil always is the country that plays forward, whose attack is strong. This is the first year we don't have the same level."

He was humbled by receiving the Hofstra degree. "This is something what makes me very proud," he said. "Normally, people get this prize after they have passed away. I thank God to get it in life. This is fantastic."

Hofstra will unveil a plaque at Shuart Stadium commemorating his visit before the Cosmos' season opener against the Atlanta Silverbacks today at 5 p.m.

It has been 37 years since he last played, yet his popularity hasn't waned. Pele said it was because decided to play for the Cosmos in 1975.

"It was the best thing I did in my life," he said. "I thank God for that because I became more well known throughout the world after I came here."

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