Kaka: River have a clear advantage
Former Brazil star Kaka discusses semi-finals of Copa Libertadores
Tournament winners qualify for FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2019
Kaka won Club World Cup in 2007
Copa Libertadores action resumes this week with the eagerly awaited semi-final return legs. The stakes could not be higher, as the final will not only decide South America’s club champions, but also its representative at the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2019™.
To help analyse the first-legs and assess how the return games might play out, we asked no less an authority than Brazilian legend Kaka, who won the Club World Cup in 2007 with AC Milan, the same year he picked up the FIFA World Player of the Year award.
Now retired, but still very much up to speed on football’s current events, the former midfielder picks his semi-final favourites, analyses the growing rivalry and difference between South American and European football, and looks forward to an exciting tournament in Qatar.
|Semi-finals||🏟️ Venue||📆 Date||First leg result|
|Boca Juniors-River Plate||La Bombonera||Tue 22 October||River 2-0 Boca|
|Flamengo-Gremio||Maracana||Wed 23 October||Gremio 1-1 Flamengo|
FIFA.com: It’s do-or-die time this week in the Libertadores with two close semi-finals about to be settled. Have you been following the respective ties?
Kaka: Yes, and it’s now a huge moment. Even if you’re not a fan of the teams in question, everyone wants to watch these games. I’ll be travelling with my brother and some friends to Rio, as the chance to watch Flamengo and Gremio do battle is not to be missed. The Copa Libertadores is the springboard to the Club World Cup, an incredible tournament that everyone in Brazil dreams of winning from a young age.
Do you have a favourite for that match following the 1-1 draw in Porto Alegre?
Flamengo are enjoying a great spell, but Gremio have done very well in the Libertadores over the last three years. [Gremio coach] Renato Gaucho has been excellent and has already shown he can deal with challenges like these. However, Flamengo have a new man at the helm, the Portuguese Jorge Jesus, who has also been doing a good job. His side are leading the way in the national championship, so this semi-final will be amazing. I don’t know who’s going to reach the final, but it’s going to be a great game and great spectacle. That’s for sure.
How about the other semi between River Plate and Boca Juniors?
I watched the first leg and thought River played very well. And now, with Boca at home it's going to be a great spectacle as well. I’d have liked to attend this game but just can’t fit it into my schedule. A Boca-River derby at the Bombonera is one of the most extraordinary experiences in football. As far as the game is concerned, I think River have a clear advantage, so I’d favour them more than Boca.
Do you think the Libertadores’ winners could be a match for Liverpool in a hypothetical final in Qatar?
All four have the potential to take on Liverpool, but the Reds are playing great football at present. They deservedly won the Champions League and are a step ahead of South American teams right now. It would be a great match – but with Liverpool as favourites.
The Club World Cup is highly coveted by South American teams. As someone who has won that title, albeit with a European side, what did it feel like?
The Club World Cup is very important to South American teams and their fans. My main memory of that  final between AC Milan and Boca Juniors was when it was all over we were able to celebrate and lift the trophy. I’d already lost one final – to Boca in 2003, when it was still the Intercontinental Cup – but in 2007 I was able to get my hands on the trophy.
When I lifted the Club World Cup, I thought back to the times I saw Sao Paulo crowned champion, in 1992 and 1993. I think, in a way, I was celebrating that moment. I’d dreamed of winning it myself one day and eventually managed to do it, so that victory in 2007 has a special place in my memory.
In the last ten years, only one Brazilian team, Corinthians in 2012, won the Club World Cup. How do you explain such a marked difference between Europe and South America?
The gulf that’s emerged between European and South American sides is incredible, but there are a number of reasons for it. Every footballer dreams of playing in Europe, where the world’s best tournaments and clubs are. It’s normal that players who stay in South America are not the very best, as those migrate to Europe. But it’s a good opportunity for South Americans to better understand how to prepare. We have to keep hold of our top players for as long as possible if we are to give as good as we get against European clubs in competitions like this one.
Given all that, what message would you send to fans in Qatar who are looking forward to this tournament?
I'd tell them to come out and enjoy in the stadiums because it’s a unique experience. The Club World Cup is special for footballers and a tournament we all want to win sometime in our career. On top of that, there’s the variety of playing styles: South Americans and Europeans have a totally different way of playing and preparing. That makes the tournament very special. Personally, I love to follow it, even if I’m a long way from the country where it’s being hosted.