Souza: Nothing is impossible

Sao Paulo captain Rogerio Ceni proudly, rhapsodically uplifted the Copa Libertadores trophy. His team-mates, including Diego Lugano, Cicinho, Junior, Mineiro, Josue, Amoroso, Luizao and Souza, took turns to parade the prestigious momento. It was a sensation the latter embraced. It is one that, four years later, he is aspiring to recreate.

Going into the semi-finals of this year's competition, Souza's dream appeared to be on course. Gremio had charged into the last 16 with the best record from the group stage, before eliminating San Martin and Caracas. However, their chances receded significantly when, midway through the second half of their first leg, Fabinho headed Cruzeiro into a 3-0 lead.

O Tricolor Gaúcho were now desperate. They needed a lifeline. Souza provided them one, his brilliant, deceptive free-kick leaving goalkeeper Fabio rooted to the spot and curling just inside the Raposa goalkeeper's left-hand post from 25 yards. Not only had the talismanic attacking midfielder reduced his side's deficit, but he had also scored a decisive away goal.

"Souza's goal has given us hope," said Gremio president Duda Kroeff afterwards. "It means that if we win 2-0 at home, we'll be in the final of the Libertadores."

Tonight, Gremio will attempt to do just that when they welcome Cruzeiro to Porto Alegre and their Olimpico cauldron. And as the Gremistas long for inspiration from their trusted No8, Souza is counting on them to thrust the side to victory.

We have to play the perfect game. It has to be the game of the year. It's difficult but nothing is impossible in football.
Gremio's Souza ahead of the second leg of his side Copa Libertadores semi-final with Cruzeiro, who lead 3-1 from the first 90 minutes in Belo Horizonte

"I hope the supporters turn up," he said. "We need them more than ever. They can make the difference. Gremio have great followers and they will witness a team who will give everything on the pitch."

Gremio coach Paulo Autuori was in the Sao Paulo hot-seat during their all-conquering 2005 - he also, coincidentally, guided Cruzeiro to Copa Libertadores glory in 1997 - and he has seen Souza evolve into one of the most formidable players in Brazil. Sure, the nimble right-footer seized his most prestigious honours in 2005, when he picked up winner's medals in the Campeonato Paulista, Libertadores and FIFA Club World Cup, but there is no doubt he is now in his pomp.

He was in his mid-20s back then, invariably a reserve, inconsistent, often deployed out of position. Now, at 30, he is a fixture in the Gremio side; its heartbeat, its star.

And having scored five times in 11 games during the 50th edition of the Libertadores, Souza is not about to choke on the big stage. "I've already been through difficult situations in life, I've already experienced hunger," he explained. "A game with 50,000 in the stadium won't make me tremble. I like this type of match."

Born in Maceio, the same city as Mario Zagallo and Real Madrid defender Pepe, Souza has urged his team-mates to produce their best performance this season to keep alive their dream of emulating Gremio's Libertadores-winning teams of 1983 and 1995, and of securing a place at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009. "We have to play the perfect game," he said.

"It has to be the game of the year. We need to mark tightly and not concede. We can't make mistakes. Every player has to do his best. It's difficult but nothing is impossible in football. Let's give everything we've got to ensure Gremio qualify for the final."