A total of 20 World Cups have been contested in the history of football. And the honour of lifting the trophy has been reserved – since the first tournament 85 years ago – to 20 players. Cafu is one of this illustrious few, and when he received the hallowed trophy in 2002 the Brazilian full-back was a Roma player, making the Giallorossi one of only 14 clubs in the world to have this honour.
Cafu is also the only player in the history of the game to have played in three World Cup finals (1994, 1998, 2002). These two facts alone are ample testament to the stunning career of the Brazilian defender, a man who has rightly gone down in history as one of the best full-backs of all time.
Soon after he arrived at Roma in 1997, legendary Giallorossi coach Nils Liedholm compared him with Francesco Rocca, a full-back who spent his whole career with Roma. It left the Giallorossi faithful under no illusions as to the magnitude of the talent that had just touched down in the Eternal City.
Cafu impressed for his speed and the way he would simply wear out his opponents on the right, goading them into fouls or merely forcing them to endure a torrid 90 minutes. Yet the Brazilian was also blessed with rare technical ability. One of the most vivid examples of this occurred during a World Cup match between Brazil and Morocco in Nantes on 16 June 1998. Brazil goalie Claudio Taffarel booted the ball up towards Cafu on the right. While his Moroccan marker waited for the bounce, Cafu produced a sumptuous touch on the volley to knock the ball daintily over his opponent’s head without ever breaking stride. Applause rippled round the stadium.
That was Cafu through and through. It’s no wonder that he once declared that, if it were up to him, he’d live on a football field. The crowning glory of his six-year stay at Roma was the Scudetto win of 2001, providing a tangible memory of his countless superlative performances. Yet perhaps his best game for the club was away to Gabriel Batistuta’s Fiorentina side on 3 October 1999. The Giallorossi won the game 3-1, with Cafu putting in a virtuoso display capped by two stunning long-range screamers, the likes of which any striker would be proud of.
Cafu was inducted into the AS Roma Hall of Fame on 19 October 2012, declaring: “When we won the Scudetto we used to go out onto the pitch feeling happy and sure of what we needed to do.” In truth, the greatest happiness was the one he gave the Giallorossi fans, every time he thundered up and down that right flank.
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