Occupying the centre-forward position in the Brazil side is no easy task. Just ask Luis Fabiano. Despite impressing in the role for many years under coach Dunga and acquitting himself well in a string of major competitions, he found himself questioned all the way through to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
The simple reason for that was the achievements of the men who preceded him in the position, the likes of Careca, Romario and Ronaldo, strikers who raised the bar high and set the standard by which all their successors are judged.
The 23-year-old Leandro Damiao now knows what it means to be an heir to that lineage. In their last five warm-up matches before the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012, Brazil scored 12 goals, none of them coming from the No9, causing some to question his place in the starting line-up.
In response to the doubters, Damiao turned in an industrious display in Brazil’s opening game at London 2012, a 3-2 defeat of Egypt in Cardiff on Thursday evening. As well as chasing down opposing defenders and midfielders and dropping back to defend at set-pieces, he also showed his flair at the other end, popping up to score a welcome goal.
“Obviously it’s great to score for A Seleção,” he told FIFA.com after his side’s hard-fought win, “but it’s not something I was worried about. What matters to me is that Mano [Menezes, the Brazil coach] is happy with the work I’m doing. I know what I’m there for and I always have done: to help the team score and keep on running, regardless of whether I’m finding the back of the net or not.”
Yet score is just what Damiao did against the Egyptians, thanks in no small part to Oscar, his erstwhile team-mate at Internacional, who played his Colorado colleague in for a well-taken goal. Sadly for the striker, their partnership – at club level at least – has now been broken up, with the Brazilian club having just confirmed the midfielder’s departure to English giants Chelsea.
“It’s just as well I make the most of his assists now because I’m going to miss them later on,” he said, after thumping in his side’s second of the night after Oscar picked him out with a classy cutback. “It’s going to be difficult to find a midfielder who’s as good as he is, but I know he’s taking the right track and is heading for a club where he can go a long, long way.”
In among the goals or not, and with Oscar by his side for the next few days at least, the level-headed Damiao is intent on staying calm and taking the pressure in his stride: “What matters to me is helping the team, and I don’t care how. As long as I can keep on doing that, then the goals will come naturally.”