'The Duck' hoping to make a splash
When Internacional overcame Sao Paulo to win the 2006 Copa Libertadores in August, their youth team forward Alexandre Pato became excited at the prospect of seeing Abel Braga's charges compete for the FIFA Club World Cup title later in the year.
He envisaged being sat at home, surrounded by family and friends, cheering on the Colorado as they competed against the world's elite, including Mexican giants Club America and European champions Barcelona . However, following an unimaginably meteoric rise to prominence, culminating in the most spectacular of professional debuts less than two weeks ago, the 17-year-old sensation is now being primed to shoot Internacional to glory in Japan.
While it may sound that a lot is resting on his young shoulders, Alexandre Pato has genuine confidence in his ability to handle the pressure of the big stage and aid Inter's quest to keep the trophy in Brazilian possession.
A star is born
Alexandre Rodrigues da Silva, to give him his full name, first came to the fore during the 2006 Copa Sendai, a youth tournament played in Japan.
He was, in fact, the youngest member of the Brazilian squad - a circumstance that failed to hinder him taking the competition by storm. Indeed, he netted a splendid hat trick in the Seleção's opening match against Japan, before scoring the game's only goal against France, just one day after his 17th birthday, to secure gold for his country.
His exploits alerted the attentions of European clubs, and with English giants Arsenal showing an interest, Internacional initiated contract extension talks with their prized asset. Albeit protracted, Alexandre Pato did eventually commit himself to the Beira-Rio club until 2009 - a huge buy-out clause being inserted into his deal in order to dissuade the advances of his elongating list of admirers.
"He's a phenomenon," declared Internacional president Fernando Carvalho. "A mixture of (Rafael) Sobis, Nilmar and Daniel Carvalho. He has a huge future."
Alexandre Pato, meanwhile, was simply desperate to pull on the red of Internacional and begin to show people back home what he could do. "I'm just crazy to play," he confessed.
Not even in his wildest fantasies, however, could he have dreamed of making such an incredible start to his professional career . Handed his debut away at Palmeiras in the 2006 Brasileiro's penultimate round, the newcomer took less than two minutes to get on the scoresheet, racing clear of the hosts' backline before scoring with his first touch.
Fernandao quickly doubled Inter's advantage before Pato came close to making it 3-0, gracefully leaping to head against the crossbar. Thereafter, he turned provider, his selfless cutback provoking the stretching Daniel into putting through his own net. Then, on the stroke of half-time, Pato escaped the attentions of Marcinho Guerreiro with a delightful pirouette, and duly squared the ball to give Pedro Iarley the simplest of tap-ins.
The scorer was in no doubt that creator deserved the utmost applause for his role in the goal: "I didn't celebrate the goal because the move was all down to him," revealed Iarley afterwards. "It was wonderful play. He could have scored himself but he unselfishly gave me the pass."
The match finished 4-1, though Palmeiras' consolation arrived after the teenager's withdrawal. Alexandre Pato had announced his arrival in spectacular fashion.
A tale of two cities
As the youngster's celebrity skyrocketed, the English-language media nicknamed him 'The Duck', one literal translation of the Portuguese word 'pato', which he is called because of the city in which he was born, Pato Branco. Nonetheless, even this new moniker brought a smile to Alexandre's face.
It remains to be seen if Abel Braga will entrust Alexandre Pato from the start in Japan, but the astute tactician must be sorely tempted to deploy the three-pronged attack that functioned so profitably against Palmeiras, with Fernandao operating in behind the front two.
Porto Alegre has become renowned for nurturing emerging talents in recent years. Between them, the city's two grandest clubs, Internacional and Gremio, have exported a throng of stars across the Atlantic, among them Diogo Rincon, Fabio Rochemback, Eduardo Costa, Daniel Carvalho, Nilmar, Anderson and Rafael Sobis.
Ironically, the most successful of them all, Barcelona's Ronaldinho , is the man that many observers believe possesses the greatest threat to Internacional's title chances. Certainly, a final between Gaucho football's former and future standouts would be highly intriguing.