Philippe Coutinho, not Neymar, Brazil's most decisive player at World Cup - Kaka

Kaka: Brazil must protect Neymar (1:50)

Former Brazil international Kaka says his country's success at the World Cup depends on the team's ability to protect their star man. (1:50)

Former Brazil international Kaka has hailed "protagonist" Philippe Coutinho as the Selecao's most decisive player at the 2018 World Cup and called for the national team to protect Neymar while he recovers from injury.

Coutinho has picked up the slack while the Paris Saint-Germain star works his way back into form, scoring in each of Brazil's two opening matches in Russia, including the late opener against Costa Rica on Friday that saw "O Canarinho" breathe a sigh of relief in an eventual 2-0 win against the Central American side.

Speaking to ESPN Brasil on Sunday, Kaka acknowledged that while Neymar is still the star man of Tite's talented team, it has been the Barcelona man who has carried the load for his country thus far.

"Neymar is our best player," Kaka said. "And I think Tite is doing a great work on managing him and trying to get him as comfortable as possible and trying to make the group stronger.

"The group is so strong, and we see Coutinho as the protagonist, the most decisive player in Brazil."

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Neymar entered the tournament still nursing a foot injury suffered while playing for PSG back in February. He then picked up a knock on his ankle in Brazil's 1-1 opening draw against Switzerland, a match that saw the forward fouled an historic number of times in the contest.

Kaka, whose career was hampered by injuries, preached patience with Brazil's No. 10.

"He's been recovering for about three months. It takes some time," the former AC Milan and Sao Paulo playmaker said. "We see him growing every game, and I think we must protect him. Protect him regarding his emotional [state], encourage him. And wait, because he is going to achieve, he is going to reach his maximum on the pitch regarding his physical condition.

"Neymar will never fail to have technique and creativity. Let's wait for Neymar to be 100 percent regarding his physical condition and help Brazil to get their sixth star."

Brazil have won a record five World Cups in their history, more than any other country. When pressed about whether he was confident that Neymar could lead the South American giants to a sixth title in Russia, Kaka -- who took part in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 cups -- said he was.

"I see him [Neymar] improving every game," he said. "The first game was so nervous. Not just about his game, but Brazil as well. It's understandable ... I've been there and I know what the opening game in a World Cup is like. The emotional, anxiety ... everything that involves a World Cup game.

"The pressure on him is unusual. He needs to understand how to protect himself from criticism. He is so mentally strong."

For Kaka, the rise of social media has changed the dynamic of a World Cup for players.

"This World Cup is very different from those I played," he said. "Nowadays, social media is so present in our lives. We had to look for information [then], and now players have everything they need in their hands. It makes a difference.

"And about Neymar ... it's how he protects himself and how his staff helps him with it."

"Like Portugal does with Cristiano [Ronaldo], Brazil should do the same," Kaka continued. "Make Neymar comfortable to do his best and [focus on] what he likes the most ... being on the pitch, scoring goals, enchanting the fans."