Cafu's Japanese love affair
© AFP

It was on a balmy evening in Yokohama back in June 2002 that Cafu became the fifth Brazil captain to hold aloft the FIFA World Cup™ Trophy. At the time there were many who interpreted it as a glorious finale in the career of the finest full-backs the game has ever produced. And yet, five years on, the incombustible Brazilian is back at the scene of his greatest triumph, ready and willing to continue his love affair with the Land of the Rising Sun.

Now 37, the veteran AC Milan defender is preparing to take on Japan's Urawa Red Diamonds for a place in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup. "It's a wonderful feeling to be back at the stadium where I lifted the World Cup trophy. I'm very excited about it," he reveals to FIFA.com. "Every time I come here I experience the same amazing sensations. I can remember the end of the final and touching the trophy. It's an image that the people of Brazil will never forget and neither will I."

Marcos Evangelista de Moraes, to give him his real name, has enjoyed his fair share of success in Japan over the years. Apart from his 2002 triumph, he also won two Intercontinental Cups with Sao Paulo in the early 1990s. "I honestly never thought this country would end up meaning so much to me," he says with a smile. "It was impossible to imagine something like this happening when I was a kid in Brazil."

Despite having achieved his childhood dreams and reached his late thirties, the evergreen Cafu remains as ambitious and as motivated as ever. "I'm feeling great at the moment. I'm very happy and I'm still excited about playing football. I know I'm not a 22-year-old kid any more, that goes without saying, but to have the chance to contest the world title at club level for the fourth time is just brilliant at my age."

The key to success
With the Urawa clash just hours away, Cafu has yet to find out if he will be in the starting line-up. The bustling Brazilian is currently alternating in the right-back berth with Massimo Oddo, but when it comes to experience he has few peers. "The youngest members of the squad ask me lots of things, but you have to remember that there a lot of experienced players in this team and they've all won things with their previous clubs," he says modestly.

As for the secret of being a thirty-something role model, Cafu reveals a simple recipe for success. "Hard work, dedication, determination and the will to win - a mixture of things that a lot of youngsters don't have today. Most of them, after winning everything by the time they're 25, want to retire at 30. Not me, though. I just love being a sportsman at this time in my life."

The next challenge awaiting the Brazilian comes on Thursday with the clash against Urawa Reds Diamonds, a test that he, for one, will not be taking lightly. "We saw their game against Sepahan and they look a very good side to me. It's always tough to play against the home team, especially as they'll have all their fans behind them."

Although mindful of the distinct possibility of facing Boca Juniors in the final, the team that beat them in the 2003 Intercontinental (Toyota) Cup, Cafu is anxious to play down talk of revenge. "I must be the only person in the world who doesn't look for revenge out on the pitch," he explains. "Vengeance is far too negative a thing to be connected to football. They were better than us in that game and if we get the chance to meet them again, then what we need to do is outplay them and win."

Victory in Sunday's final, should Milan get there, would help the elder statesman erase memories of that defeat, the only one he has suffered at the International Stadium Yokohama. "I really hope I can win this title with Milan and my Brazilian team-mates. There are eight of us altogether and if we win the Cup, it would be great for the people back home too."

With the stage for yet another Yokohama fairytale, it remains to be seen whether Cafu will be celebrating a happy ending come Sunday evening.