Five years after retiring from football, Kaka’s timing remains as immaculate as ever.
Just hours before Brazil were confirmed as the new No.1 team in FIFA’s World Rankings, he told Arab News he expects his countrymen will head to Qatar 2022 as favorites to win a record-extending sixth World Cup.
Speaking at the unveiling of the official FIFA World Cup match ball, Al-Rihla, at an event in Qatar Kaka said: “We just finished the qualifying [round], topping the table. It’s been a very good job with Tite, the coach who’s been there since the last World Cup, with a lot of young players coming out and growing at the right moment. This is why in my opinion Brazil will be one of the favorites.”
Sticking with the same coach after the 2018 World Cup and eschewing the cycle of firing and hiring that so often follows every failed tournament has been pivotal in allowing the team to develop over the past few years, Kaka says. Following elimination by Belgium at the quarter-final stage in Russia, Brazil’s 60-year-old coach promptly delivered the 2019 Copa America on home soil.
“Tite is very good with tactics, he understands the players, the way to play,” he said. “And he gave this team an identity. So we can see Brazil playing very well. Another good thing that just happened in the last few games was that Brazil played very well without Neymar. It doesn’t mean that we don’t need him. We do need him. But I think when we take away all this responsibility from him, we also give him more opportunity to shine. So this is why Brazil can make the difference in the World Cup.”
Brazil will not have it their own way, and Kaka, who has a 2002 World Cup medal to his name, sees France, the reigning world champions, and other powers as their biggest rivals when the tournament kicks off on Nov. 21.
“France will be one of the favourites. Germany, too, they have a very, very good team. Of course, when you talk about Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal will be always a very strong national team and tough to play. Argentina, with Messi, as well, and Belgium.
“And Spain is doing very, very well. In my opinion, it will be those teams. And of course in every World Cup we see one surprise. So let’s see who’s going be the surprise in this one.”
For Kaka, Neymar remains Brazil’s obvious talisman, and he sees Aston Villa’s rejuvenated Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino, Newcastle’s Bruno Guimaraes and Real Madrid’s Vinicius Jr playing major roles.
One player who has caught his eye above all others is Leeds United’s gifted winger Raphinha, increasingly one of the team’s most outstanding players and first choice for Tite.
The 39-year-old is impressed by the young players emerging in the world.
“Pedri is an amazing player. Really good, really good, one of the best” said Kaka. “This is a new generation with [Kylian] Mbappe, [Erling] Haaland, Pedri. In Brazil we now have Raphinha. It’s a new generation, new players coming out and they are playing very, very well.”
During the launch event of Al-Rihla, Kaka took part in a 20-minute five-a-side match that included Spanish World Cup winner and former Real Madrid colleague Iker Casillas, and aspiring female and male footballers from Qatar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
With the focus of the world turning to the Middle East as the World Cup approaches, Kaka says this is the time to encourage growth at a grass roots level and develop new talent across the region. “They are trying to take advantage of the World Cup to invest a little bit more in football and youth, and to develop players.”
“This is something that I would like to see after the World Cup here in the Middle East,” he said. “Especially because it could be one of the ways to develop not just players, but also people, because I think the values that football can bring for the people are really important.”
Kaka said that the Arab world already has one particular football icon and that more will hopefully follow in his footsteps.
“We are seeing, of course, a lot of good players,” he said. “[Mohamed] Salah is an amazing player, of course, and one of the best. It’s something that’s happening here in the region that can give us hope that a lot of good players can come out from here.”