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Last Updated: Monday, 29 May 2006, 08:54 GMT 09:54 UK
Tim Vickery column
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

Kaka in training
The idea that a player has to sacrifice himself for the benefit of the team is just - but I can't be the only one to do it


A cartoon in Saturday's issue of Brazil's leading sports paper shows the national team's two Ronnies as Laurel and Hardy.

There are no prizes for guessing that Barcelona's Ronaldinho is in the role of Stan, while Real Madrid's Ronaldo has the weightier task of interpreting Ollie.

In the cartoon both are smiling.

But if their film is to have a happy ending they will certainly need a strong performance from one of the most illustrious members of the supporting cast.

As Brazil set off in search of their sixth World Cup win, there is nobody in the side more important than Kaka.

In common with most in his profession, Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira is obsessed with balance.

Striking a balance between attack and defence is essential for a team to have serious ambitions of winning the World Cup.

Many believed that Parreira tilted that balance too much towards defence when he guided Brazil to success in USA 94, victory coming on penalties over Italy in the final.

Strikers Romario and Bebeto were left with little help from midfield - indeed the only goal Brazil's midfield quartet contributed to the entire campaign was a penalty from Rai in the opening game against Russia.

Parreira's justification was that such methods were necessary at the time.

Ronaldo and Ronaldinho in training
Brazil is more than the two Ronnies - or is that Laurel and Hardy?

The matches were played in extreme heat. Brazil had gone 24 years without winning the trophy. They were not a defensive side - just a very organised one, and their victory helped restore the self-esteem of Brazilian football.

But 12 years on, the circumstances are very different.

Brazil are the reigning champions, have reached the last three World Cup finals and are everyone's favourites in the build up to Germany.

They have a collection of attacking talent that bears comparison with anything they have ever fielded.

With two out-and-out strikers in Ronaldo and Adriano, backed up by Ronaldinho and Kaka, Brazil's attacking power is frightening.

But it could go horribly wrong, as it did away to Argentina almost a year ago when they found themselves 3-0 down at half time.

Their problem that night was the freedom they gave Argentina's Juan Roman Riquelme.

When their moves broke down Brazil did not get enough players behind the ball.

They got the balance wrong and this is where Kaka is so important.

The AC Milan star is blessed with a quick mind and a terrific engine and in addition to his attacking attributes, he understands the importance of funneling back and has the physical capacity to do it.

Kaka admires Ronaldinho's fancy footwork in training
Kaka admires Ronaldinho's fancy footwork in training in Switzerland

He embodies the balance that Parreira is seeking.

Kaka is aware, though, that performing such a balancing act comes at a price.

He and Ronaldinho are sometimes criticised for not reproducing their club form when playing for the national team.

"At Milan we have three defensive midfielders and I don't have to worry about marking," said Kaka earlier this month by way of explanation.

"It's the same story with Ronaldinho at Barcelona. He doesn't have to mark. But with Brazil we only have two midfielders behind us, so we have to drop back and help out, which changes our style of play."

Last week he was even more emphatic.

"Emerson and Ze Roberto (those two midfielders he was referring to) are not going to be able to keep running the whole time in order to leave us sitting pretty up front," said the 24-year-old.

"The idea that a player has to sacrifice himself for the benefit of the team is just. But I can't be the only one to do it."

His message is clear. He will play the straight man for Stan and Ollie as long as others will do the same for him.

If not, then like Argentina last June, it will be another fine mess they've got themselves into.

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