Until very recently, the name of Felipe Melo barely figured in the world's sports pages. During several seasons in Spain, the Brazil international turned out for largely unfashionable sides and his chances of appearing in competitions such as the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009 looked remote.
Then came a move to Fiorentina of Italy's Serie A, and after a virtually flawless season with La Viola, the 25-year-old midfielder has deservedly earned a place in A Seleçao and is now gearing up for Thursday's semi-final against South Africa. In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the defensive midfielder spoke about the recent upturn in his footballing fortunes and his struggle to prove the doubters wrong.
Brazil on a high
Felipe is all smiles as he settles down for a chat, which is not surprising when you consider how well he has adapted to the pressures of international football and the manner in which Brazil have been performing in South Africa. "I'm very happy, of course I am," he says. "The fact is things have been going very well for us. This is a young team that is growing with every game and though we still have a lot to learn and the road is long, we have proved that we have a great team spirit and a lot of quality."
That quality was evident in the historic defeat of Italy, a result that the Fiorentina man is well qualified to analyse. "I think Italy were too open in their approach," he explains. "They have a lot of quality but we are always at our best when teams try and play an attacking game against us. The same thing happened in the friendly we played in London and the result was very similar. In any case, the fact we were up against Italy doesn't really matter. We played a great game, pure and simple, and we are very happy."
Next up for the in-form Brazilians are South Africa and though Melo believes that his side are favourites, he has every respect for the local heroes. "Maybe they didn't expect to get to the semi-finals but they deserve to be there. They've got some good players and a great coach, and football has shown us many times that there is no such thing as a small team. What we have to do is go out and show that we are better."
Points to prove
There is a very good reason for the big smile on Melo's face. Only 12 months ago the prospect of him appearing in a major tournament for his country seemed to be a distant one. In that time, however, he has finally shown his full potential after treading a career path familiar to many of his compatriots and spending several years struggling to make an impression with a clutch of unglamorous sides. So how did the sudden transformation come about?
"In Spain I played for four years in another position. I was a striker and that made it very difficult for me to play well. I only got to play in midfield in my final season and I did really well. I was only playing for small teams, though, and when I joined Fiorentina I started to get more recognition. It's a great club and I've been able to work better there. The results are there for everyone to see."
The next question is an obvious one. Why was he playing up front when he has shown himself to be a natural in the midfield holding position? "The coach I had when I was at Racing Santander, Miguel Angel Portugal, said that I couldn't play in midfield because I wasn't good enough. Then I went to Almeria and I was able to show him that he was wrong. And since moving to Fiorentina I've reinforced the point even more."
Having successfully taken on one challenge, Melo is keen to achieve everything he possibly can at international level and believes he knows the magic formula for Brazil's future success. "The key is to keep on winning. If we carry on winning we'll win the Confederations Cup and the World Cup too. It's the only way."