Ronaldo, Pele, Rivaldo: Cafu's all-time Brazil XI will always be epic

Brazil's Cafu and Ronaldo.

Happy birthday, Cafu.

Today, the Brazilian icon blows out 52 candles on his birthday cake and strides into a 14th year of post-retirement life having drawn the curtains on his playing career at AC Milan.

A Champions League winner and two-time World Cup victor, Cafu is regularly named by fans, pundits and journalists alike as the greatest right-back in the history of the men’s game.

Happy birthday, Cafu

Cafu was part of a long line of Brazilian stars who added the flair and skill so often associated with the country’s football into their game regardless of where they played on the pitch.

Besides, you know you’re a special full-back when you’ll forever be remembered for juggling the ball over Pavel Nedved’s head – a Ballon d’Or winner, lest we forget – three times in mere seconds.

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Neymar began his professional career at which club?

And if it wasn’t for another World Cup-winning Brazil captain in the form of Carlos Alberto, it’s fair to say that Cafu would be an absolute shoo-in for any and every all-time XI of the Selecao.

Or, of course, the problem could be eliminated by asking Cafu for his own selections where – in typically humble fashion – he can leave himself off the team sheet.

Cafu’s all-time Brazil XI

And that’s our not-at-all-contrived segue into exactly that because the birthday boy did indeed bless us with his selections for Brazil’s greatest ever XI while writing for the Guardian in the build-up to the 2018 World Cup.

It was not only fascinating to see how one of the finest footballers in history broke things down, but the line-up that he settles upon proved to be one of the most menacing that we’ve ever seen.

So, be sure to take a wild ride through a Brazil XI so star-studded that Ronaldinho is nowhere to be seen by checking out Cafu’s selections and his justification for them down below:

GK: Claudio Taffarel

Cafu says: “He was so calm, smooth and peaceful, always giving us confidence on the field. He didn’t do anything fancy, never jumped or dived unnecessarily and always had the ball under control.”

Brazil's Taffarel celebrates.
3 Jul 1998: Claudio Taffarel of Brazil celebrates after victory in the World Cup quarter-final match against Denmark at the Stade de la Beaujoire in Nantes, France. Brazil won 3-2. \ Mandatory Credit: Shaun Botterill /Allsport

RB: Carlos Alberto

Cafu says: “Whether defending or attacking, he was always good. Carlos was a great leader, but his technique was even more incredible.”

CB: Aldair and Lucio

Cafu says: “They never played together, but I believe that they would form an amazing partnership. Aldair was very calm, never made a bad tackle and his positioning was incredible.

“He was my team-mate at Roma and with the Seleção – he saved my life many times when I was attacking. Lúcio was more aggressive and intense.”

Brazil's Lucio at the 2010 World Cup.
Brazil’s Lucio arrives for a training session in Port Elizabeth July 1, 2010. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker (SOUTH AFRICA – Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)

LB: Robert Carlos

Cafu says: “A world champion, he played at a high level for many years, with the same quality and intensity whether defending or attacking. He was a giant.”

CDM: Falcao

Cafu says: “He was a smart player, a legend with an elegance rarely seen on a football pitch. The king of assists, he never misplaced a pass or made a mistake.”

RM: Zico

Cafu says: “Zico was intelligent, had incredible vision and could strike a superb free-kick. A foul around the area was as good as a goal to him.”

CAM: Rivaldo

Cafu says: “He was a genius. Come on! It was so wonderful to see him with the ball. He played with the same style as Falcao. Rivaldo was brilliant.”

Rivaldo scores at the World Cup.
Brazil’s Rivaldo celebrates scoring a goal against England during a World Cup quarter-final match in Shizuoka June 21, 2002. REUTERS/Jim Bourg PA/JP

LM: Roberto Rivellino

Cafu says: “His elastico move was beautiful, like something from another planet. I love him! He was the best dribbler of a football ever.”

ST: Pele

Cafu says: “The athlete of the century, he scored more than 1,000 goals, and won the World Cup three times. He was complete. I don’t need to say anything more. Pelé is Pelé. No one can beat him.”

ST: Ronaldo

Cafu says: “You had to pay attention to both feet with Ronaldo as they were as good as each other. He was an example to other players, too.”

Brazil's Ronaldo scores at a World Cup.
KOBE – JUNE 17: Ronaldo of Brazil celebrates after scoring the second goal during the FIFA World Cup Finals 2002 Second Round match between Brazil and Belgium played at the Kobe Wing Stadium, in Kobe, Japan on June 17, 2002. Brazil won the match 2-0. DIGITAL IMAGE. (Photo by Koji Aoki/ AFLO/Getty Images)

What. A. Team.

If that’s not an outrageously good XI, then we don’t know what is.

You know that Brazilian football has a rich history of top-class quality when Ronaldinho, Neymar, Romario, Garrincha, Kaka, Socrates, Jairzinho, Dani Alves and Cafu himself can’t get a look in.

But that’s the levels that we’re talking about here and if anyone knows a few things about playing the beautiful game to the very highest of standards, then you can bet that Cafu is your man.

Cafu's all-time Brazil XI.
Cafu’s all-time Brazil XI featuring Pele and Ronaldo.
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