Few people would dispute Kaka’s enduring status as one of the leading players in the world. The highly gifted Brazilian has made a bigger impression than most on the global stage in recent years and is now bringing his talents to bear for Real Madrid as they set about relieving Barcelona of the league crown they won last year.

Club objectives aside, Ricardo Izecson Dos Santos Leite, to give him his full name, also has the national team very firmly in his thoughts. The on-field leader of the fearsome Seleção is gearing up for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. And as he tells FIFA.com in an exclusive interview, the genial Kaka is aiming at nothing less than victory.

Not surprisingly, the playmaker was one of the architects of Brazil’s impressive qualification campaign, one that he believes contained many high points for the men in green and yellow.

Coming up against teams like Côte d’Ivoire, Portugal and Korea DPR is a great motivation for us because it means we have to go into the World Cup at our very best.

Kaka on the challenges facing Brazil in South Africa

“It was a very long competition but it was a very positive one for us,” he explains. “We had some good spells and some not so good ones, but we were pretty consistent overall and we finished in first place. Obviously, clinching our place in the finals against Argentina made it even sweeter. But that wasn’t the only great result we had. We ended a long run without a win in Uruguay with an emphatic victory and in general it was a fantastic experience.”

Now comes the hard part, and Kaka knows as well as anyone that Brazil will have to fight hard at South Africa 2010, where they have been drawn in one of the toughest sections of all.

“It’s a very difficult group, perhaps the hardest in the whole first round,” he comments. “Coming up against teams like Côte d’Ivoire, Portugal and Korea DPR is a great motivation for us because it means we have to go into the World Cup at our very best. We’ll need to prepare really well because if we don’t, we could be in for a nasty surprise.”

Club and country
As Kaka acknowledges, coach Dunga is the reason why A Seleção are heading into the tournament in such fine fettle. “He’s a very serious, down-to-earth person who always does things the right way,” says the admiring No10.

“He has a very coherent approach on and off the pitch and the results we’ve had could not be better. We won the Copa America and the Confederations Cup and we topped our qualification group. In doing so we overcame a lot of criticism and it was his serious attitude and calmness that helped us stay relaxed. The fact that he retired from the game fairly recently also means that he knows what players want and how to deal with them.”

Asked if there are comparisons to be made between the side that flattered to deceive at Germany 2006 and the current crop, the Real Madrid playmaker has this to say: “There’s a big difference. That was a very successful team that had won a lot of things but was coming to the end of an era. There are many younger players in the team now and we’re very hungry. It’s a side with a lot to prove but I think we’re right where we need to be.”

So are Kaka and Co out to set the record straight after the failure of four years ago? “I wouldn’t put it that way,” comes the answer, “but it’s definitely a great opportunity to erase memories of last time. We reached three finals in a row between 1994 and 2002, and in that respect 2006 was sort of understandable. It was the end of a cycle for us. Several players have moved on and we’re all expecting a successful new phase to begin. Let’s hope it starts now in 2010.”

Before South Africa comes around though, the Brazilian schemer has plenty of business to attend to with Real Madrid, namely their bid to bring an end to Barcelona’s recent dominance in Spain. “Playing for Madrid is a great challenge,” he says. “I had six unforgettable years in Milan, but this is a new adventure and I need to keep on improving and looking for new goals.”

Among his club team-mates, of course, is Cristiano Ronaldo, who will be lining up against Kaka when Portugal take on Brazil in Durban on 25 June. “It’s fantastic to be playing with such terrific footballers. We’re great friends and we have a good understanding on the pitch. He’s amazingly talented and we can achieve big things together.”