- Cafu is the only man to play in three World Cup Finals
- Sir Alex Ferguson quipped that 'The Express Train had "two hearts"
- Cafu made a spontaneous tribute to his wife Regina
As Cafu continued to motor up and down touchlines well into his late 30s, Sir Alex Ferguson made a famous observation. The Brazilian, he said, must have “two hearts”.
Cafu, while appreciative of the sentiment, was able to discount that particular theory. He does, though, have something else that marks him out as unique. It is a collection of medals from three different FIFA World Cup™ Finals – 1994, 1998 and 2002 – which is the envy of every other player who has participated in football’s greatest tournament.
Cafu’s association with the World Cup began long before the first of those tournaments. He was, after all, born on 7 June 1970: the date Pele, Jairzinho and Co beat holders England en route to the Trophy in Mexico. Perhaps conscious of the nurse imploring him to allow her to see the end of the game, little Marcos Evangelista Moraes – later to earn the nickname Cafu - emerged just before the final whistle.
That baby would, in time, become one of the game’s greatest-ever fullbacks. Besides his record tally of three World Cup Final appearances, Cafu is also Brazil’s most-capped player, having won 142 caps. The fact that he won two of those Finals, one as captain, and also helped lead his country to two Copa America titles and a FIFA Confederations Cup crown, merely strengthens the esteem in which he is held.
The Brazilian is a legend in Italy as well, where he won the Scudetto with both Roma and AC Milan and helped the latter become European and world champions. A skilful, powerful and hugely influential player both in defence and attack, Cafu’s remarkable energy and stamina caught the eye of plenty besides Sir Alex. Fans in Italy nicknamed him ‘Il Pendolino’ (The Express Train).
Before Cafu, several players had appeared in two World Cup Finals. Many of them – mainly from Italy’s 1930s sides and the great post-war Brazilian teams - had already lifted the Trophy twice.
And then, of course, there was Pele. The talisman of the team the year Cafu was born had already played, and won, in both the 1958 and 1962 editions. He had not, though, played in all three of those Finals, picking up an injury during the group phase in 1962 that kept him out of the rest of that tournament.
Surpassing the great man would have been the last thing on Cafu’s mind when he took to the field for the first of his World Cup Finals on 17 July 1994.
The young fullback had arrived at the tournament after helping Sao Paulo to successive Copa Libertadores and Intercontinental Cup triumphs, and would go on to be named South American Footballer of the Year. However, he had not been picked to start against Italy in the Rose Bowl. Fate took a hand when Jorginho was injured after just 21 minutes, with Cafu an assured replacement, as Brazil kept a clean sheet before beating Gli Azzurri on penalties.
It was a very different story four years later when he returned to this exalted stage, this time as a starter. On that occasion, Brazil – disorganised and seemingly demoralised - were comprehensively beaten 3-0 by hosts France.
But the best was yet to come. On 30 June 2002, just a few weeks after his 32nd birthday, Cafu skippered Brazil to a memorable 2-0 victory over Germany in Yokohama and made World Cup history in the process.
He marked the occasion by climbing aloft a precarious looking plinth and paying homage to two of the great loves of his life. Scrawled on his shirt was a tribute to his Sao Paulo neighbourhood of Jardim Irene, while his wife was acknowledged with a cry of “Regina, eu te amo” (Regina, I love you), as he hoisted the Trophy for a second time.
“I think it’s very unlikely that it (playing in three Finals) will happen again and I feel very honoured to be the only footballer to have achieved it. None of the other great footballers down the years have managed to play in three World Cup finals.
“[Coming off the bench at USA 1994] didn’t come as a shock because I was prepared. When you go to a World Cup, you must be ready to play at any time. I had my chance in the World Cup Final and, wow, it was the opportunity I needed to show the whole world what I was capable of.
“The penalty shootout wasn’t exciting for us. There was just a hope that it would all end quickly, so you’ll know whether you are a champion or not. And there was much more pressure on those first five guys than on us watching from the side.
“In 1998, unfortunately we came up against a better side. France played very well in that game. Many people say that Brazil didn’t play well, but that takes away from France’s achievement. We didn’t play well enough to beat them.
“Leading a group of players who want to win is much easier than leading a group that doubt themselves, aren’t committed or are divided. Brazil’s 2002 team was very easy to lead [as captain] because everyone had the same aim, and that was to be world champions. When you have that togetherness, and there are no egos, it certainly makes your job as captain easier.
“When I wrote '100% Jardim Irene' on my shirt, and paid tribute to Regina, I hadn’t planned it. I had no idea all this would happen. Regina has been with me for over 30 years and I think it was fair that I paid tribute to her in that moment for everything we’d been through together. As for Jardim Irene, that’s the neighbourhood where I was born, grew up and now have my foundation. I wanted to show them that someone coming from a humble neighbourhood, with no prospects at all, could still become a great athlete and a good person.
“There is nothing better than being a world champion and lifting that cup. I think it’s been the dream of every footballer, and certainly every captain of Brazil. Without a doubt, winning the World Cup is the highest prize in football. It's the peak - the maximum that you can reach.”