The final member of Brazil’s last World Cup-winning squad hung up his boots on Sunday.
Former Sao Paulo, AC Milan, Real Madrid and Orlando City playmaker Kaka enjoyed a decorated career, winning Serie A, LaLiga and the Champions League.
Kaka also won the World Cup, the 35-year-old a member of the Brazil squad who reigned supreme at the 2002 tournament in South Korea and Japan.
After dazzling in his homeland in 2001, Kaka earned a ticket to the World Cup the following year with Luiz Felipe Scolari and the Selecao – the attacking midfielder going on to win 92 caps and score 29 international goals.
He only made one appearance off the bench at the 2002 showpiece, however, the superstar trio of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo sidelining Kaka as Brazil celebrated a historic fifth world championship.
Brazil have failed to reach those lofty heights since, underwhelming in 2006, 2010 and 2014.
Here, we take a look at the three ‘Rs’ who were instrumental in creating history with Brazil and those who failed to lead a new generation.
It was much more than I could ever imagined. Thank you! I’m now ready for the next journey. In Jesus name. Amem.
Foi muito mais do que eu pedi ou imaginei!Obrigado! Eis-me aqui para próxima jornada. Em nome de Jesus. Amém. pic.twitter.com/PofZBAV0BE
— Kaka (@KAKA) December 17, 2017
Before Cristiano came along, Ronaldo was the name on everyone’s lips. With two World Cups, two Copa Americas, and a Confederations Cup plus three FIFA World Player of the Year awards and a pair of Ballons d’Or just to name a few, Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima was the face of football. A lethal and skilful striker – widely regarded to be one of the greatest of all time – he earned 98 caps for Brazil, scoring 62 goals. His international tally remains second only to Pele. It all started as a 17-year-old for Ronaldo, who was the youngest member of Brazil’s squad that won the 1994 World Cup. Ronaldo did not play in the United States, but he was front and centre in France four years later, receiving the Golden Ball for player of the tournament as the South American giants reached the final. He suffered a fit before the decider against France, who upstaged the Selecao. The former Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter and AC Milan man had no such issues in 2002, scoring twice in the final and claiming the Golden Boot as he collected a second World Cup winners’ medal with an unforgettable haircut. Ronaldo was unable to inspire Brazil to back-to-back titles in 2006, though he scored his 15th World Cup goal in Germany, which was a tournament record at the time.
Brazil’s production line provided another gem of a player. This time trickster Ronaldinho – also regarded as one of the best to have played the game and arguably the most skilful player to come out of the country. With his goofy grin and long hair, Ronaldinho’s international career will always be remembered for his stunning long-range free-kick against England in the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup. The former Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona playmaker lobbed David Seaman from 40 yards en route to the final in South Korea and Japan – an iconic moment in World Cup history. Ronaldinho scored another goal and tallied two assists at the tournament, where he dazzled alongside Ronaldo and Rivaldo. He also captained Brazil to their second Confederations Cup title in 2005. His three goals at the tournament improved his tally to a record-equalling nine, joint all time with Cuauhtemoc Blanco. All up, the two-time FIFA World Cup of the Year and 2005 Ballon d’Or winner scored 33 goals in 97 appearances.
Predominately a left footer, the languid Rivaldo was just as skilful as Ronaldo and Ronaldinho with his bending free-kicks, overhead kicks and long-range scoring. But the 74-time international, who added 34 goals, was definitely cleverer than his illustrious team-mates. While he helped Brazil reach the 1998 World Cup final, and starred alongside the pair as the South American giants triumphed four years later in South Korea and Japan, it was his on-field antics and an infamous moment in particular which will forever live in the memory of outraged Turkish players and fans. In a stunning display of play-acting – worthy of winning an Oscar – Rivaldo collapsed to the turf clutching his face, having been struck on the leg by a ball from Hakan Unsal, who was frustrated as the Brazil star waited next to the corner flag during the controversial 2-1 group-stage victory. Brazil went on to win a record fifth title – Rivaldo scoring five times.
The legend Brazil waited in vain for. Robinho was the next big thing in South American and world football after sealing a big-money move to Real Madrid in 2005, and while the talented winger racked up 100 international appearances, he never truly lived up to the hype. As Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Kaka were phased out, Brazil’s hopes rested on Robinho to add to their five World Cups and despite winning two Confederation Cup crowns and the Copa America, the former wonderkid’s international career was filled with what-ifs due to injuries and inconsistent form.
He was labelled as the ‘next Ronaldo’ and looked set to carry the baton for Brazil but off-field issues destroyed a career that was destined for the top. With the football world at his feet, Adriano – a powerful and supremely talented striker – was scoring for fun for Inter, his 74 goals in all competitions helping the Italians to four Serie A titles. He enjoyed success with Brazil, winning the Copa America and Confederations Cup, while netting 29 times in 50 appearances from 2000-10. However, the death of his father sent Adriano’s career on a downward spiral and it ended ultimately unfulfilled.
— CBF Futebol (@CBF_Futebol) December 5, 2017
While Robinho and Adriano were unable to inspire a nation, things look remarkably different with Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar leading a new generation to Russia 2018. The world’s most expensive footballer – already Brazil’s fourth leading goalscorer of all time with 53 in 83 games – has the Samba Boys dreaming of a sixth World Cup, where Tite’s men are among the favourites to etch their names in history and restore the nation to former glories next year.
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