It’s an unclouded mild morning in the Qatari capital and Cafu, the last Brazilian captain to lift the World Cup, is smiling brighter than the desert sun outside.
The national team director is pleased with the performance of the boys. “Right now, there’s only one difference between the 2002 team and this; we are world champions, and this one is about to be world champions,” said the legendary defender. “Everything has changed in Brazilian football since the last few World Cups. We have an excellent bunch of players and are not overly dependent on anyone.”
The injury worries looming over Neymar, who hobbled out in tears with a swollen ankle in the win over Serbia, doesn’t change Cafu’s outlook. “Neymar can change the game around with a move of a genius. But great stars see more of the ball and hence get more attention and are at the receiving ends of more fouls. He is a great player, but this Brazil team has many great players,” he said, secured in the knowledge of a power-packed bench with Gabriel Martinelli, Gabriel Jesus, Rodrygo, Pedro and Antony to step in whenever required.
A change in Lucas Paqueta’s position at the start of the second half from Tite brought in the two goals that decided the match against Serbia and Cafu said: “The coach inverted the position in the midfield as Serbia was posing a lot of problems in that side. And this reading of the game makes Tite special, it was a masterstroke that changed the game.”
The Brazilian cautioned the world to be wary of a hurt Argentina. “Argentina had a bad match against Saudi Arabia. The players looked over-eager in the first half and nervous in the second as goals were not coming and Saudi Arabia came up with a result that makes football so special,” Cafu said. “But they are still a top side and in Messi, they have one of the best geniuses in football. Argentina will always be a threat irrespective of past results.”
Impressed with the quality of play in the opening round of matches. Cafu said: “It’s a novelty to play the World Cup in mid-season and for the players, it’s better as they are in the height of their conditioning. And this might become a tradition.”