Brazil World Cup legend Zico carries the Olympic flame alongside former Japan international stars

Zico carries the flame with NAKATA Koji, NARAHASHI Akira, HONDA Yasuto and SUZUKI Takayuki; Olympic Torch Relay reaches Ibaraki prefecture, which will host 11 football matches at the Olympic Games in 2021

One of the greatest footballers of all-time has held the Olympic flame aloft on the latest stage of the Olympic Torch Relay in Japan.

Zico, who played for Brazil at three World Cups and managed Japan at the 2006 edition, smiled at the cameras and waved towards the fans as he took centre stage by carrying the flame around the Ibaraki Kashima Stadium - home to the Kashima Antlers - on the opening day of the relay in Ibaraki prefecture on Sunday, 4 July.

The 68-year-old former attacking midfielder is currently the technical director of the Antlers, a team he has both played for and managed, and who compete in the country’s top-flight J League.

Famed for his starring role in the 1982 World Cup in a team widely regarded as the world's best, Zico has since been credited with improving the standard of football within Japan; winning the Asian Cup for the Samurai Blue's in 2004 and leading the team to a record 11 wins from 12 to qualify to the World Cup in 2006.

Picture by Getty Images

Although more familiar with lifting trophies than torches, Zico looked at ease as he was joined by former Japan internationals and Antlers' stars NAKATA Koji, who played for Japan at both 2002 and 2006 World Cups, NARAHASHI Akira, who was part of Japan's World Cup debut squad in 1998, as well as SUZUKI Takayuki, who competed at the World Cup in 2002, and HONDA Yasuto, who played for the country and made over 300 appearances for the club.

All five stars took turns to hold the torch aloft amid wet conditions in the city.

The Ibaraki Kashima Stadium will host 11 football matches at Tokyo 2020; six group stage matches, two quarter finals, two semi finals and the women's bronze medal match.

There are now just 18 days remaining until the Olympic flame is used to signal the start of the Olympic Games on 23 July 2021.

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