Most of AC Milan's scoring in the Champions League this season has come from Kaka.
The Brazilian leads the competitions with 10 goals - two more than he scored in the Italian league season. In Wednesday's final against Liverpool, Kaka has a chance to match Ruud Van Nistelrooy's tournament record of 12 goals scored in 2002-03.
"The most important game of my life is always the next game. At this moment, it is Liverpool," Kaka said. "One month ago it was Manchester, and 45 days ago it was Bayern (Munich)." Inzaghi has scored four goals in the Champions League this season and Gilardino two. Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti reportedly has chosen Inzaghi to start, while club president Silvio Berlusconi has publicly opted for Gilardino to play the first half and Inzaghi the second.
There's no question regarding Kaka, who still lines up in midfield but has become the squad's best finisher. His three goals in the semifinals propelled Milan past Manchester United. "My teammates have faith in me. I have earned it," Kaka said. He's also earned the opponent's respect.
"It is important not to allow Kaka to play easily and give him many spaces because that is when he will play very well," Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso said. "He is strong, quick and good with the ball. We will work on closing him down. In that area we have to be compact."
Kaka can be devastating when he starts with the ball in midfield. Sometimes it appears he moves faster with the ball than without it. "He's the best player in the world along with Ronaldinho," Pele said in an interview with the Gazzetta dello Sport. "He's most similar to (Johan) Cruyff. He has speed, vision and when he takes off from midfield he's one of a kind."
What Kaka lacks is the respect of someone who has won a major international title. He was a member of the Brazil team that won the 2002 World Cup, but made only one 19-minute appearance in the first round.
Perhaps that's one reason why Kaka holds Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard in esteem. It was Gerrard's goal that started Liverpool's rally when it overcame a 3-0 halftime deficit to beat Milan in a penalty shootout in the 2005 final in Istanbul, Turkey. "He's a modern player," Kaka said of Gerrard. "He runs, scores, provides assists and he's a leader. He's one of those players I'd like on my team."
The deeply religious Kaka is not one to hold grudges. "Everyone's talking about a vendetta for what happened in Istanbul," Kaka said. "It happened. We lost the final and Liverpool became European champions. But the motivation for us is simply being in the final again and having a chance to win the Champions League."