Cafu: Group of death could inspire the Selecao
COSTA DO SAUIPE, Brazil -- After a week in which fears of deadly World Cup pairings seemed to have been a topic as hot as the sweltering temperatures in the Brazilian state of Bahia, Marcos Evangelista laughs at it all -- literally. The man the world knows as Cafu does not seem to understand the fuss around the strong possibility of some early tussles between big teams at the 2014 World Cup. This even after a dry run for Friday's final draw at the Costa do Sauipe resort threw Brazil, Italy, France and Australia together. "Why are you so worried about that result? Brazil played these three teams this year and beat them all. They thumped France 3-0 in a friendly in May, defeated Italy 4-2 at the Confederations Cup and in September scored six past the Australians. Maybe you should have a bit more faith on the boys," quips Cafu, one of the eight former star players amassed by FIFA for the draw ceremony. Slaloming his way through a battalion of cameras and microphones and not breaking a hint of sweat in spite of the blazing Northeastern sun, the legendary Brazilian right-back -- who amassed 142 caps, two World Cup titles and the impressive record of featuring in three consecutive finals between 1994 and 2002 -- still looks fresh, as if he retired last week instead of 2010. But he's seen things in 16 years of Selecao service, including what he calls a "spur effect."
"The Selecao could do with tough opponents at the group stage. Not only it would force them to focus even more on the tournament, which is never a bad thing, but also could take some more of the serious competition out of the way. The lads have been doing well, getting some important results and they did manage to fire up supporters after the Confederations Cup," he explains. So respected is the 2002 World Cup-winning captain still in Brazil that right before the Confederations Cup, he was summoned by manager Luiz Felipe Scolari to address the group before their opening match against Japan in Brasilia. A young squad looked liked little boys when Cafu stepped on the Mane Garrincha pitch by surprise. Ultimately, he is protective of the class of 2014. When facing the inevitable comparison with the 2002 squad (which was also managed by Big Phil), Cafu is bluntly disarming. "The answer is simple: the 2002 team was much better. Why? Because it has won the World Cup and already paraded the trophy to the crowd. The 2014 team hasn't even played in a World Cup yet so I think we should give them time to write their own history." Neither Neymar, his Confed teammates or Cafu ever leaked the contents of that famous pregame pep talk, but it must have included lessons on how to ride expectations and criticism. In 1998, as Brazil ended their World Cup preparations with a poor performance and 1-0 defeat to Argentina at the Maracana, Cafu heard more than 80,000 people at the stadium swearing at him like sailors. His father was present and was moved to tears. "It was one of the worst moments of my life, let alone my career," he remembers. The Selecao did lose to France in the final that year, but Cafu was one of the few players who escaped scrutiny. Four years later, his beaming smile shone almost as much as the FIFA trophy in Japan as Brazil defeated Germany, 2-0. "People always tell me to describe how it felt, but it was such a tourbillon [whirlwind] of emotions that things didn't look real. I hope these lads [the class of 2014] do well. Brazilian people love football and if the Selecao won the title at home it would finally put that 1950 trauma to bed," he reckons. The mention of the almost self-explanatory "Maracanazo" is ironic given the fact one of the FIFA legends also taking part in the draw is Alcides Ghiggia, whose mishit shot won that 1950 final for Uruguay in Rio. "We were all laughing and joking before [Thursday's] press conference, each one kindly asking the other to bring good luck to the respective team. It's an atmosphere full of respect." This respect also underpins his views on possible World Cup outcomes. Asked about which players could stand out in the event, the Selecao legend refused to pick among Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. "Football has taught me that the team needs to be the hero. Look at Messi. He has indeed been a wonderful player, a phenomenon. People obviously expect Argentina do a great tournament because Messi is their best player, but Argentina will need to make the best of him in the team in order to go far in the tournament." With that, the legendary pendolino jumps into a golf buggy that's ready to take him to another commitment at Sauipe. As he's about to leave, Cafu moans. Then, he actually tells the driver to hang on while three soldiers rush over to get a precious selfie. They too giggle like little kids.