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Kaka optimistic despite lackluster World Cup start

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — After a season full of injuries, even a lackluster performance felt good for Kaka.

The playmaker was not a factor in Brazil's 2-1 win over North Korea on Tuesday, but all things considered, he was satisfied.

"I'm happy with the way I played. I didn't really know what I could expect," said Kaka, whose groin and thigh problems kept him sidelined for 45 days at one point this season with Real Madrid. "I think I got better as the game went on. Hopefully in the next match I'll be able to play better and until the end."

Still not fully fit after, Kaka was substituted by striker Nilmar in the 78th minute at Ellis Park Stadium. He tried a couple of his trademark runs through defenders but never looked comfortable and made some uncharacteristic passing mistakes.

"In each match I'm getting better and better," Kaka said. "There is still a lot to improve, but that will come with time."

His best chance came just two minutes into the match after a setup by Robinho inside the area, but Kaka failed to get a shot off as a defender easily stole the ball from him. He only hit the target once, and without much of a threat.

Without his creativity, Brazil found it tough to get past the smart defensive setup of the North Koreans.

Right back Maicon finally came through with a goal from a tight angle to give the five-time champions the lead in the 55th minute, and Elano added another goal with a one-touch shot from inside the area after a perfect pass from Robinho in the 72nd. North Korea got is goal from Ji Yun Nam in the 89th.

Kaka had scored the winner in Brazil's opener four years ago in Germany, a 1-0 victory against Croatia in Berlin.

This time around he was still treating the left thigh ailment when he arrived in South Africa but doctors said the problem is not affecting him anymore. Because Kaka was sidelined for so long, he is having a hard time regaining his game rhythm, even though he played all of a warmup against Tanzania on June 7

"We are seeing some difficult matches in the World Cup so far and we need to be aware that it's how it's going to be," the 28-year-old player said.

With coach Dunga omitting players such as Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Adriano from the squad, Kaka has taken the responsibility to lead the Brazilians in South Africa as it tries to win a record six world title.

He was in Brazil's squad when it won the 2002 championship in South Korea and Japan, and was a starter when it was eliminated by France in the quarterfinals four years ago.

After his disappointing season with Real Madrid, Kaka would need a stellar World Cup to try to add a second FIFA world player of the year award to the he won in 2007 with AC Milan.

Brazil leads the tough Group G after Portugal and Ivory Coast drew 0-0 in their opener earlier Tuesday. Brazil will face the Ivory Coast on Sunday at Soccer City and then closes group play against Portugal on June 25 in Durban.