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   June 10, 2002 | 1030 IST


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Cafu set to make history

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Brian Homewood

Two years ago, Brazil right-back Cafu stood accused of abandoning his team mates in their hour of need.

On Sunday, he has the chance to lift the World Cup as Brazil captain and make history by becoming the first player to play in three World Cup finals. And nobody will be questioning his commitment.

Cafu's international career hit a low point in June 2000 when he was sent off in the World Cup qualifier away to Paraguay, a game which Brazil lost 2-1.

Brazil's captain CafuHis loyalty was questioned after he decided to leave the team rather than stay with them for a following game one week later. Cafu insisted he had the permission of Vanderlei Luxemburgo, the coach at the time, and many believe that Luxemburgo's poor handling of the matter ended up staining the player's reputation.

Although Cafu regained his place in the team, he again found himself under fire just before the World Cup tournament started.

Luiz Felipe Scolari, the present coach, blamed Cafu's poor marking for having to use three central defenders rather than just two, a comment pounced upon by the Brazilian media.

But everything changed on the eve of the tournament.

Captain Emerson was ruled out with a dislocated shoulder, suffered in training, and Cafu was given the armband. Since then he has been praised as an example of commitment and leadership.

"I need to talk about a very special player," said Scolari in his last interview before Sunday's final against Germany.

"If there is one man who has made sacrifices and lent himself to the cause of the Brazil team, this man is Cafu.

"It doesn't matter whether we win the cup or not. For me, Cafu is a champion already."


Scolari said Cafu had played a completely different role to the one he is used to with his Italian club AS Roma and had never complained once.

"He is much more concerned with the defence and marking than he is at Roma. In the last three games, we have asked him to do much more marking and he has done excellently.

"And I needn't say anything about his captaincy: he transmits security to everyone, he has been my commander on the field. A great example of dedication and humility."

Cafu's international career goes back 12 years and has been a series of ups and downs.

His debut against Spain was Brazil's first game since their dismal performance in the 1990 World Cup finals and their first under coach Falcao, who decided to experiment with a team of untried internationals.

Brazil sank to a 3-0 defeat and Falcao was sacked one year later with his so-called "laboratory" in shambles.

Cafu went on to establish himself as a regular international and played more than 100 games.

In 1994, he was the reserve right-back to Jorginho. But, after only 17 minutes of the World Cup final against Italy, Jorginho went off injured and Cafu replaced him.

There have been no challengers for the right-back position since.

Cafu played in six of the seven games at the 1998 World Cup -- missing only the semi-final through suspension -- and has played in all six of Brazil's games so far in South Korea and Japan.

With three appearances in 1994, he has played more games in the World Cup than any other Brazilian -- another record.

Cafu said on Friday that taking over the captaincy was no problem and he was delighted to be a record-breaker.

"It was very easy," he said.

"The group is good, we are a group of professionals who know what we want, a group of leaders and that makes it easier."

On his ground-breaking achievement, he added: "Excellent. I only thought about it when you brought it up. To be the first player in the world to take part in three successive World Cup finals is very important.

"For me, this is becoming a record-breaking cup. They are marvellous records and it's a personal conquest. I think this will all be crowned if Brazil win the title.

"I'm very happy about this. It hasn't been easy."

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