Monday 13 March 2017, 08:31

Cafu: Russia are one of Confed Cup favourites

Last week Brazil legend Cafu spent a jam-packed 48 hours in Saint Petersburg, exploring the city. He carried the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 trophy onto the pitch of the new Saint Petersburg Stadium as part of the festivities marking 100 days to the start of the Tournament of Champions in Russia. Cafu is not only a two-time FIFA World Cup™ winner, he also lifted the 1997 Confederations Cup trophy, so he is certainly entitled to hold the trophy in his hands.

During his visit, Cafu took time out to speak with about the approaching festival of football in Russia, the best moments from his career and Brazil's experience of organising international FIFA tournaments. What are your memories of Brazil's preparations for the Confederations Cup in 2013 and the 2014 FIFA World Cup? Was there a lot of excitement?** Cafu: *We took the preparations for the Confederations Cup very seriously. It was important to realise how capable we were of putting on such a large-scale event. There was a huge buzz in the country. There are fewer stadiums in use at the Confederations Cup compared to the World Cup, but the venues that hosted the tournament on that occasion proved they were fully prepared for the World Cup, and this made our task easier. The tournament turned out to be important for the national team as well: in the build-up to the Confederations Cup, the team was experiencing a lack of trust from some supporters. The trophy we won helped unite everyone around the Seleção.*

You have visited Moscow and Saint Petersburg on a number of occasions. Do you remember the first time you played in Russia? It was cold! But I'm always cold in Russia, so nothing unusual there. I had been to Russia before, so I knew what to expect. My first match here was a friendly between Russia and Brazil in 1996 in Moscow. It was a good game; I don't remember all the details as it was so long ago, but I do recall we played out a 2-2 draw. For me, Russia is first of all a country with a rich and interesting history. My second association is snow!

Brazil have won the most Confederations Cup titles in history but will not be competing this summer in Russia. Who are the favourites in your absence? I think the final will be Russia vs Germany. I've named Russia as one of the favourites because the host nation always performs extremely well at these tournaments, in front of their own fans and swept along by a surge of optimism on all sides. Even though some Russian supporters don't have a lot of faith in the success of their national team right now, it is not that important. The Confederations Cup is actually the perfect opportunity to overcome any lack of trust and prove that the Sbornaya will produce worthy displays at both the Confederations Cup and the World Cup.

You played at the Confederations Cup 1997 in Saudi Arabia. What are your abiding memories of that tournament? Brazil had a phenomenal line-up back then, possibly even better than at a few World Cups. And that's why we won, right? How could we not win with such stars in our team? The thing I remember most from that tournament was that we all shaved our heads after winning it, as we had agreed before the competition this is what we'd do if we won. We all went around bald afterwards!

You had players like Romario, Ronaldo and Rivaldo. Was this the strongest front three in Brazil's history, do you think? We had so many amazing forwards! It's very difficult to compare them. Every team that won World Cups or the Confederations Cup featured outstanding players in attack. During the 1990s, of course, these three were the very best.

You hold the record for the most appearances for your country, and by some distance. How did you manage to achieve this in a team where competition for places is arguably the toughest in the world? I think this is understandable because no one has played for Brazil over such a long period of time as me – 16 years! I think it's purely down to strength of will, my devotion to football and the effort I put in during all this time.

The two biggest triumphs in your career were winning the World Cup in 1994 and 2002. What do you remember from those finals? Both were very emotional but extremely different in terms of the responsibility I had. I was playing in my first FIFA World Cup Final at USA 1994. I was young and it was my first chance to get my hands on the most important trophy there is for any footballer. I was ready for this, had worked very hard, but I started on the bench on that occasion. However, in 2002 I had the colossal responsibility of a captain leading his team to the final. I was nervous both times, but it was completely different.

As captain, did you give a speech to your team-mates before the final against Germany? I didn't say anything other than I usually do. On the way to the final, we had played six matches and got six victories. I just told them that they don't need to do anything other than usual. Why change anything when it's working? Why act differently in a final if you've won all your previous games? You might get the thought that this is a final and I need to say something special to get everyone motivated, but how could they have made it all the way to the final if they weren't motivated?

It is unlikely your appearance record will be broken anytime soon, but Pele's record for goals scored is under threat. Can Neymar overtake him? All records exist only to be beaten. Of course, Neymar has got it in him. He's young and has time on his side. If he continues playing as he is now, then there's every possibility he will.

What advice would you give to the organisers of the Confederations Cup and World Cup in Russia, as well as Russian football fans, so that these tournaments are even better than in Brazil? Above all else, the most important thing is belief. You need to believe in yourselves more, in your national team and their chances of victory. Believe that Russia can host tournaments at the highest level. The main thing is to believe, and then everything will work out.