JOHANNESBURG - Brazil have gambled on Kaka to stage a revival in South Africa but his stuttering performance against North Korea on Tuesday suggested that they might have put their apples in the wrong basket.
Still short of match fitness after an injury-plagued season with Real Madrid, Kaka was a shadow of the player who was voted the best in the world by FIFA in 2007.
He dallied over his shots, sprayed passes in all the wrong directions and failed to shake off his tenacious North Korean opponents, leaving the midfield devoid of creativity and forcing Robinho and Luis Fabiano to drop back and look for the ball.
Worryingly for Brazil, coach Dunga has no real alternative for midfield inspiration, having declined to bring either Ronaldinho or Santos playmaker Paulo Henrique Ganso to South Africa.
Dunga was at pains to point out in an interview after announcing his squad that Brazil had won the Copa America in 2007 without Kaka, who said he was too tired to take part in the tournament in Venezuela.
However, on that occasion they had Diego, a player capable of keeping the strikers well supplied, in the squad.
Dunga has said that no single player would be expected to play a similar role to Kaka if his number 10 was unavailable.
He said he had a number of alternatives up his sleeve, but, looking at his squad, it is difficult to see what they might be.
Three of the other seven midfielders in the squad - Gilberto Silva, Felipe Melo, and Josue - are workhorses whose job is to break up opposing moves and get rid of the ball as quickly as possible.
Ramires, Elano and Kleberson are more comfortable on the ball but none can be expected to take on any sort of playmaking role.
Perhaps the only real clue is the Copa America final against Argentina where Julio Baptista played behind the two strikers, although on that occasion Brazil were helped by opponents who came at them and left space for a counter-attack.
If their other World Cup opponents follow North Korea's example and pack their defence, then Brazil are going to keep struggling.
Kaka's battle for form and fitness stretches back several seasons. In his last season with AC Milan he was hampered by niggling injuries and the move to the Bernabeu cauldron has done nothing to help him regain confidence.
During a six-week layoff in March, he had to answer insinuations that he was saving himself for the World Cup.
Although he made an impressive return, he was sidelined again at the end of the season and was still finding his way back to fitness when Brazil arrived in South Africa.
After the match, Kaka's explanation was that his performance was acceptable, given the circumstances.
"I think it was good for an opening match," he told reporters after the match. "I didn't really know what sort of condition I would be in.
"I hadn't played for a long time, I've been through a lot and so I'm very happy. Of course, there's a lot of room for improvement, but it was OK. I hope that in the next match I can play for longer and in better conditions."
The mystery remains as to why Dunga has handed a key role to a player who openly admits he is struggling for rhythm.comments