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From Maracana to the sambadrome, Rio honors Zico

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Zico may have failed to lift the trophy in three campaigns, but the former football legend's legacy will be at the heart of Rio Carnival celebrations marking World Cup year in Brazil.

The Imperatriz Leopoldinense samba school will pay tribute to the former Brazil and Flamengo star, who also managed Japan and was nicknamed the "white Pele," when they perform on Monday.

Zico starred in the 1978, 1982 and 1986 campaigns of the "Selecao," which saw entertaining teams miss out on glory.

But the fans have not forgotten his silky skills.

With the clock ticking down to the party, Rio has been rocking as its samba schools finalize weeks of intricate preparations.

Imperatriz Leopoldinense, with its 3,200 dancers, is competing with another 11 schools for this year's Carnival champions title.

Rules surrounding the award are strict and passions between the rivals run as high as in any football stadium.

Dozens of workers have been working bare-chested in the summer heat to put the final touch to decorations.

"It takes at least 20 minutes to decorate a simple football on a float," one of them tells AFP.

The float, featuring a giant pair of red football boots at its heart, gives a visual account of Zico's childhood in the Rio suburb of Quintino.

Next to the boots is a yellow cockerel, a reference to the nickname given to Zico as a youngster -- "Galinho de Quintino" (the little cockerel from Quintino), owing to the mohawk hairstyle he once sported.

Another float is filled with golden footballs and trophies to represent the honors the attacking midfielder won in the 1970s and early 1980s with Flamengo.

The parade will show off vignettes of Zico's career from his early days with the club, through to leading Japan to the 2006 World Cup as coach.

- Beautiful game equals samba -

"This is one of the greatest tributes one can receive. For a Brazilian, a samba school parade is right up there with a World Cup," Zico told AFP.

Facing a 70,000 crowd and the jury at Rio's famous Sambadrome does not faze him.

"At the Maracana (stadium), more than 100,000 people used to chant my name," recalls Zico, who was born Arthur Antunes Coimbra into a family of Portuguese origin.

Despite missing a world title Zico's generation were wonderful exponents of the Beautiful Game as played by 1970's Pele-led vintage.

"There is a total symbiosis between football and samba," Zico says. "For the beautiful game you have to know, as is the case with samba, how to move subtly."

At a session in Rio's renowned Sambadrome attended by AFP, Zico was, even so, moving rather less smoothly than scores of dancers wiggling their hips in frenzied but expert fashion alongside him.

As to the White Pele label, Zico says he never liked the sobriquet.

"That started in France," he explains. "I never liked it because Pele is Pele and it was a responsibility."

Zico prefers the name by which Brazilians know him: "When I was little people called me Arthurzico and then just Zico."

- Samba and soccer: winning blend -

The decision by the samba school to make Zico the centerpiece of their display is bound to be popular, says choreographer Cahe Rodrigues.

"Zico's charisma in this special year will see the public receive him with open arms and applause," predicted Rodrigues.

"Brazilians are just crazy about football. Carnival, samba, they're joyful, vibrant. Just like football.

"They're spectacles, great events. And when you bring them together success is guaranteed," he told AFP.

"Zico is a global idol. The biggest challenge was to transform his story into something visually tangible."

Former rivals such as Roberto Dinamite, now chairman of Vasco da Gama, and Brazil star Roberto Rivelino will parade alongside Zico, who will enjoy the occasion all the more as he turns 61 on the day.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140225/maracana-the-sambadrome-rio-honors-zico-0