Marcelo: Brazil's next great No6?
© AFP

The FIFA U-20 World Cup has proven the launchpad to eminence for a series of Brazilian wingbacks over the years. Former and current senior internationals Jorginho, Roberto Carlos, Serginho, Athirson, Paulo Cesar, Fabio Aurelio, Maicon, Adriano Correia and Daniel Alves, who between them have represented AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich, AS Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Sevilla and Valencia, all starred in the tournament during their formative years.

Having already made his full Brazil debut under Dunga - another graduate of the biennial youth event - and joined Real Madrid in a big money transfer, Marcelo is now eager to make his mark on the competition and lay the foundations for a long and fruitful career. Blessed with the natural inclination to attack seemingly inherent to his countrymen, and the skills, speed and stamina to validate this disposition, the 19-year-old's reputation as the next great Brazilian No6 looks to be vindicated.

However, while he is looking forward to following the aforementioned luminaries on to the world stage in Canada, Marcelo is equally determined to avoid the heartache of elimination experienced by so many of his positional predecessors and, in contrast, emulate Jorginho (Mexico 1983), Adriano Correia and Daniel Alves (both UAE 2003) by pocketing a winners' medal. If Marcelo is able to do so, it would doubtless help convince Dunga that he is Roberto Carlos' long-term successor in the Seleção.

Heir apparent
Marcelo Vieira da Silva Junior, to give him his full name, began to draw applause at the South American U-17 Championship in 2005, where his blend of assured defending and inventive darts down the left flank facilitated Brazil's charge to the continental prize. Nelson Rodrigues' team headed to the FIFA U-17 World Cup later that year among the forerunners for the title, but in spite of hinting at his huge potential, Marcelo had to be content with a silver medal.

Upon his return to Rio de Janeiro, the left-wingback set about establishing himself in the Fluminense first-team, an objective he swiftly accomplished. Nevertheless, when Dunga named Marcelo in his maiden Brazil squad in August 2006, the decision evoked widespread surprise. The 1994 FIFA World Cup™-winning captain elected against handing the rookie his senior international bow against Norway, but the player did retain his place in the party for the pentacampeões' ensuing fixtures against Argentina and Wales, and against the latter he capped an impressive debut with the South Americans' first goal in a 2-0 victory.

Moreover, his strike just before the hour-mark - a thumping 25-yard effort that swerved and dipped en route to the back on the Welsh net - coupled with the attacking outlet he provided, underlined comparisons to Roberto Carlos. "I couldn't have dreamed of a better debut by scoring such a beautiful goal," enthused the youngster at the time.

Real Madrid paid attention to his progress and, also seeking to find a long-term replacement for the infallible Roberto Carlos, parted with a sizeable sum to sign him from Fluminense. "I'm thrilled to be here," he said upon penning a deal with the Spanish superpower. "Signing for Real Madrid and being only 18 years old is a dream come true." Since the turn of the year, Marcelo has debuted for los Merengues in the La Liga title run-in.

Canada or Venezuela?
Marcelo did not participate in the 2007 South American U-20 Championship, but after witnessing his charges triumph in Paraguay, coach Nelson Rodrigues made it clear that he desired Marcelo's presence in Canada. However, he was not the only Brazilian coach who called-up the teenager. Indeed, Dunga included him in his preliminary squad for the Copa America in Venezuela, leaving the left-wingback in a quandary.

"I will help whichever team. It is always an honour to wear the Seleção colours, whether it be in the world U-20 championship or the Copa America. Where they put me, I'll play," he affirmed. As it transpired, Nelson Rodrigues' wish was granted and Marcelo was confirmed in Brazil's final squad for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007.

There, his performances are sure to be scrutinsed by Dunga and his assistant Jorginho, firm believers in the importance of youth tournaments. With Roberto Carlos having vacated his long-running international service, and Gilberto, his Germany 2006 deputy, the wrong side of his 31st birthday, an impressive showing on Canadian soil could elevate Marcelo from aspirant to automatic in the Seleção reckoning.