World Cup winner Kaka says current Brazil manager Tite could be the key to his country securing a sixth global title later this year.
The five-time world champions have not lifted the game’s showpiece trophy in two decades, when Kaka was a member of the 2002 winning squad. In fact, Brazil's best performance since then was in 2014, when they reached the semi-finals on home territory.
Nevertheless, Fifa's current No 1-ranked side go into World Cup 2022 in Qatar as one of the favourites, having in March finished top of South American qualification. Brazil remained unbeaten throughout, winning 14 of their 17 matches.
Tite, the former Al Ain and Al Wahda manager, has been in charge since 2016, leading his national team to success at the 2019 Copa America. He has already managed Brazil at a World Cup, too, although his side exited the 2018 tournament in Russia at the quarter-final stage following defeat to Belgium.
Speaking in Dubai on Thursday having helped launch the Fifa World Cup trophy tour at the Coca-Cola Arena, the now-retired Kaka told The National: “Brazil will be one of the favourites to win the World Cup again. We have a very good team, very good players, and one thing that is really important for me, is that they kept the coach for a long period.
“He was at the last World Cup, where Brazil lost against Belgium, but the federation kept Tite for another World Cup cycle. And that for me is the key. Because he had four years to prepare the team, to see different players, try a lot of things, and now he knows all the players, knows which players he can count on in the right moment, in the special moment like the World Cup.
“And we have a lot of good young players as well. I can say about [Leeds United winger] Raphinha, [Ajax forward] Antony, Vinicius Junior, who’s having a great season with [Real] Madrid. Also, [club teammate] Rodrygo just made an incredible Champions League semi-final.
“So those guys will help out Neymar to have a very good World Cup. That’s why I believe Brazil will be one of the favourites.”
Kaka, who represented Brazil at three successive World Cups from 2002 to 2010, played 92 times in all for his national team, helping them capture the Confederations Cup twice. As such, the 2007 Fifa player of the year understands the pressure that accompanies his country at a World Cup.
However, Kaka says the present Brazil squad has the requisite blend of experience and youth to have success in Qatar, when the tournament kicks off in Doha on November 21. Brazil have been placed in Group G alongside Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon.
Asked how Tite's side will manage the weight of expectation heading into the finals, Kaka said: “The mix between the experienced players, like [Chelsea defender] Thiago Silva, [Barcelona full-back] Dani Alves, and also Neymar – he already played in a World Cup – together with this young generation, that will be the good mix for Brazil to handle this pressure and to have a good result in the World Cup.”
The November 21-December 18 event marks the first time the World Cup has been staged in the Gulf. Kaka, who visited Doha in March for the Fifa Congress and also the finals draw, said: “It’s a great opportunity when we talk about the World Cup, so everyone hosts a championship like the World Cup, for the people to live something like the World Cup.
“I had the great opportunity to see what it is like in 2014, when Brazil hosted the World Cup there. For the people, for the country, for everybody, it’s an amazing time – before, during and post-World Cup. So I hope the Middle East can have this great experience as well.”
As hosts, Qatar have been drawn in Group A with Ecuador, Senegal and the Netherlands as they contest the World Cup for the first time in their history. The home country have only once previously failed to advance beyond the group stages – South Africa, in 2010 – with Qatar looking surely to build on their 2019 Asian Cup title win.
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“It’s a little bit of pressure for the host country to host the World Cup,” Kaka said. “And, of course, Qatar will have this, but it’s not just a pressure but also a push. So it’s a great motivation for Qatar to at least pass the first group stage and have this motivation to play the World Cup and get some results. It’s a big factor for them.”
Iker Casillas, the 2010 World Cup-winning captain with Spain, also told The National at Coca-Cola Arena on Thursday: “Like with every other team, you need to play well and be lucky. As a host, Qatar has a special role to play.
“Qatar are not among the favourite teams or the ones that are likely to win. However, they have that right to be among the 32 teams that are playing this World Cup.”
As for Spain’s chances of a second global crown, Casillas said: “First of all, they need to play [good] football. And second, be lucky. It will also depend on which teams they end up playing against [Spain contest Group E with Germany, Japan and either Costa Rica or New Zealand] and how the players are feeling.”
The UAE national team are aiming to become only the second Emirati team to qualify for a World Cup. They face Australia in a play-off on June 7 in Doha and, if they win that game, will then take on Peru six days later, also in Qatar, for a place in the finals.