Kaka Has World Cup Finals Chance with Brazil, but Damage May Already Be Done

Christopher Atkins@@chris_elasticoContributor IApril 17, 2014

MILAN, ITALY - APRIL 13:  Ricardo Kaka (R) of AC Milan is challenged by Norbert Gyomber (L) of Calcio Catania during the Serie A match between AC Milan and Calcio Catania at San Siro Stadium on April 13, 2014 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Just last Saturday, with 60 days to go until the start of the 2014 World Cup, I was asked by Bleacher Report to predict Luiz Felipe Scolari's 23-man squad for the competition that Brazil will host this summer.

Given the stability that Scolari has brought to the squad, around 20 of the picks were relatively straightforward assuming that injury does not strike between now and June. There are, though, two or three places still up for grabs.

One of those up for grabs is likely to be the third goalkeeper position, which will be contested by Atletico Mineiro's Victor and Fluminense's Diego Cavalieri. Lucas Moura and Bernard, meanwhile, are likely to be in a direct shootout for one of the forward berths in the squad, with performances in the Canarinha currently placing the latter in pole position.

The final berth currently up for debate is likely to go to Hernanes. The Inter Milan midfielder is undoubtedly very talented, but he failed to truly make an impact in Brazil colours over the past 18 months. At club level, too, his form since moving in January has been far from spectacular.

With Chelsea's Oscar in need of reliable backup for the No. 10 berth, could an opportunity be opening up for in-form AC Milan star Kaka?

Hernanes is likely the man to displace
Hernanes is likely the man to displaceFelice Calabro'

If Hernanes has suffered for his decision to switch clubs, Kaka has undoubtedly benefited. Having become somewhat of an outcast at Real Madrid, the Brazilian has found an extended spell of fitness and some consistent form for the first time in four years.

Back in a place he considers home, Kaka's seven league goals and four assists this season underline his influence on a struggling AC Milan side. He is second only to Balotelli for goals, per Whoscored statistics, while only Robinho has provided more assists.

However much Kaka has improved, he is not the player of old. Between 2004 and 2009, he was simply outstanding for the Rossoneri and took home a much deserved Ballon d'Or title after helping the club to Champions League success in 2007.

At both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, though, he struggled to show his true ability for his country. In nine World Cup games since his 18-minute cameo in 2002, he has just one goal and, indeed, has been subbed off on more than half of those occasions. Against Ivory Coast in 2010, he would also see red courtesy of a highly controversial refereeing decision.

World Cups have not provided particularly fond memories since 2002
World Cups have not provided particularly fond memories since 2002Ian Walton/Getty Images

It is the easy accusation to make of the man who is a World Cup winner in 2002 that he has failed to perform for his country when it really matters. He has also played just five times for Brazil since the 2010 tournament and, thus, there are many who see Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho as the more progressive option.

Coutinho, also, has been excellent this campaign and can play in a number of midfield roles. He also, courtesy of Brazilian youth-team setups, has a close understanding with the likes of Neymar and Oscar at the heart of Scolari's side.

Where the Liverpool man suffers, though, is in experience. The atmosphere in Brazil this summer will be intense and the hosts will have to deal with that weight of expectation. Experience, then, could be key.

Kaka, far more so than Ronaldinho, is an enticing prospect in that respect. He is known for his balanced personality, has plentiful top-level experience and knows Scolari well.

Besides personality differences, he is currently performing better than Ronaldinho and at a higher level. His rival, too, upset Brazilian management last year with his slack attitude when called to play a friendly against Chile. Per Sambafoot's Luca Persico, assistant manager Carlos Alberto Parreira has suggested that he will not be considered as a result.

The tide, then, may be taking a late turn in Kaka's favour. The Milan-based star hasn't been exceptional when given a chance with Brazil over the past two years, but he has given generally creditable performances. Neymar, also, has expressed his enjoyment of playing alongside the former World Player of the Year.

It is likely that whoever is selected plays little more than a bit-part role and, previously, Hernanes' ability to play a deeper midfield role played in his favour.

With the introduction of two very complete midfielders in Ramires and Fernandinho into the squad since last year's Confederations Cup win, though, that is no longer a priority. Adding to attacking depth and ensuring Oscar has someone to relieve the pressure on his shoulders is now key.

A number of factors, then, are aiding Kaka's cause. It would be great to see him on a World Cup stage one final time, but Scolari will not and should not be swayed by nostalgia.

For now, as suggested on Saturday, Hernanes remains in possession of a squad berth. The final few games of the season represent a final chance for both players to stake their claim and, at present, it is Kaka who is doing the better job of doing so.

He had a lot of ground to make up, but the AC Milan star is doing his best to come up on the rails. A month ago, it appeared that his dream was dead in the water. Now, though, the situation is far from clear cut.


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