Kleber plots Abu Dhabi return
© AFP

Twenty Brazilians stood in unison, proud, fulfilled and euphoric, commemorating wildly in front of over 55,000 fans in Abu Dhabi. They had just beaten Spain to win the FIFA U-20 World Cup UAE 2003.

These players seemingly had the world at their feet. None, perhaps, more so than Kleber Giacomance de Sousa Freitas, an exquisitely gifted forward who many expected would be fast-tracked into the plans of then-Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira.

A majority of that triumphant U-20 squad, including Daniel Alves and Nilmar, both currently on FIFA Confederations Cup duty, have gone on to represent Brazil at senior level. Curiously, Kleber is not among them.

He is, however, resonantly staking a claim for a place in Dunga's plans as he attempts to book a return to Abu Dhabi, where this year's FIFA Club World Cup will be staged in December. Indeed, Cruzeiro's charge into the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores 2009 has been indebted to the genius of the 25-year-old.

I'm only thinking about Cruzeiro. I want to stay. I'm focused on becoming a champion of South American and then, possibly, the world.
Cruzeiro's Kleber on interest from Europe

Kleber got A Raposa's Group 5 campaign off on a positive note, scoring twice in a 3-0 win over Argentina's Estudiantes, who will take on Uruguayan giants Nacional in the other semi-final. He was also instrumental in their 3-1 aggregate defeat of Universidad de Chile in the last 16, before inspiring the exit of his former club Sao Paulo.

Tonight, Cruzeiro will host compatriots Gremio in the first leg of the semi-final. "Gremio is a big club with a lot of tradition. They've won this competition before and they know what it takes," Kleber told FIFA.com. "They've also been playing very well. They qualified for the last 16 with the best record from the group phase, unbeaten and having only conceded one goal along the way. They're a very strong team defensively. They mark very tightly and make it difficult for you to play.

"But we believe in our football. We've been playing well and getting results. We've done very well away from home in the Libertadores, winning in Santiago and Sao Paulo in the knockout phase. However, we want to make sure we win at home and hopefully build a nice cushion to take to Porto Alegre. It's important that we don't concede at the Mineirao."

Gladiador Azul (Blue Gladiator) only arrived in Minas Gerais in February, the pawn in a transfer that involved Guilherme going to Dinamo Kiev, with whom he had won two Ukrainian Super League titles before spending 2008 on loan at Palmeiras. He immediately made an impression, rising from the bench against Estudiantes to score twice and receive a red card - all within 14 minutes.

Kleber quickly became an icon to the Cruzeirenses by propelling the team to the Campeonato Mineiro crown, scoring in both legs of the final against arch-rivals Atletico Mineiro and finishing as the competition's second-leading marksman. "Cruzeiro have wonderful supporters. They are so passionate about football and they always get behind the team," he explained.

"As soon as I arrived here they made me feel at home and I always try to repay their affection on the pitch. They deserve this title," he added, referring to the Libertadores prize the club lifted in 1976 and 1997.

Elimination of Gremio would leave Adilson Batista's team one tie away from sealing their place, alongside Barcelona, among others, at UAE 2009, which will begin six years to the month since Kleber last showcased his talent in Abu Dhabi. However, his 21 goals in 24 appearances for A Raposa have prompted interest from a selection of European colossuses, including Liverpool.

Since I joined Cruzeiro I have dreamt of winning the Libertadores, and I believe that we can do it.
Kleber

"I'm only thinking about Cruzeiro. I want to stay," he insisted. "One day, it would be nice to play for a big club in a big league in Europe, but right now I'm focused on becoming a champion of South American and then, possibly, the world."

"Gremio are tough opponents. We will have to play with the determination we showed against Sao Paulo. But I believe we will beat them. Since I joined Cruzeiro I have dreamt of winning the Libertadores, and I believe that we can do it."