Maria Oliveira and her daughter Andreia Moreno will never forget 17 July 1994. They may have been 6,600-plus kilometres away from their native Rio de Janeiro, but they painted Miami with a quintessentially Brazilian brush. Family and friends gathered at Maria's apartment. They were all caped in canary-yellow. Football was on the television. The barbecue was churning out the finest cuts of meat. The lager was ice-cold.
When Roberto Baggio's career nadir, a ballooned penalty, confirmed Brazil as FIFA World Cup™ winners for the fourth time, ecstasy overcame everyone present. Everyone including Andreia's infant. “He was only three years old but he was already a football fanatic,” Maria explained to FIFA.com.
Maria and Andreira were armchair spectators at USA 1994. They are actual ones at this FIFA U-20 World Cup – and two of the most ummistakable faces in Colombia. They dress in their team's replica shirts. They parade a leviathan flag. Their cheers rocket the decibel levels.
Curiously, though, those shirts are red, decorated with a coat of arms rather than five stars; that flag is known as La Bandera de España rather than A Bandeira do Brasil; and that applause is for Spain, not Brazil.
Maria and Andreia are not, however, glory supporters, basking in Spanish football's ongoing apogee. They roar on La Roja, instead, because their No9 addresses one as vovó (grandma) and the other as mãe (mum). Rodrigo, indeed, is the Carioca who was celebrating vivaciously on that aforementioned day in Miami.
Football prompted him to relocate to Spain as a ten-year-old. His father, who became his agent, went with him. In 2008 he was spotted by Celta Vigo. A year later he was snatched by Real Madrid. He has since joined Benifca and had a spell on loan at Bolton Wanderers.
But it's in the red of Spain, in the FIFA U-20 World Cup, that the striker has most enthralled. He headlined the Iberians' 4-1 defeat of Costa Rica with a brace, and tormented Ecuador during a 2-0 victory with his nimble footwork and cerebral movement, before sitting out of the 5-1 win over Australia because he was one booking away from a suspension.
“Seeing Rodrigo play in the [FIFA U-20] World Cup is the proudest moment of my life,” revealed Andreia. “Words can't describe how proud I am of him. Football means everything to him, and this is a dream. Rodrigo's a wonderful person and he's worked so hard for this. He really deserves it.”
Maria, intoxicated by pride, chipped in: “It's the most emotional thing I've ever experienced. I'm just overwhelmed. Don't get me wrong, we're very proud to be Brazilians. Brazil is a wonderful country with wonderful people. But you're family has to come before your country, doesn't it? We've really grown to love Spain and their supporters too.”
A emotional conflict potentially ensues for Maria, Andreia and Rodrigo. If the consensus proves correct and Brazil and Spain eliminate Saudi Arabia and Korea Republic respectively, their birth and adopted countries will collide in the quarter-finals.
“I hope it doesn't happen!” exclaimed Andreia, grinning ponderously. “I think Rodrigo feels 50 per cent Brazilian and 50 per cent Spanish. Spain has given him everything, though. He loves the country. He feels very proud of wear the [Spain] shirt. It may be difficult, but he would do everything possible to eliminate Brazil. And of course I would be cheering for him and Spain with all my heart. Sorry, Brazil!”
Maria added: “If they meet it will be quite strange, but Rodrigo can count of my cheers! I always supported Brazil very passionately, but I'm really enjoying supporting Spain. Football means everything in our family.”
And just in case you need a little more convincing that football is a religion within the family, Rodrigo refers to former Brazil defender Adalberto as pai (dad), USA 1994 winners Mazinho and Bebeto as tio (uncle), and Barcelona youngsters Rafinha and Thiago Alcantara as primo (cousin).
The latter, a nationalised Brazilian, was last week handed his maiden call-up by Vicente Del Bosque. If he appears against Italy, ironically the midfielder's birth land, he will emulate Heraldo Bezerra, Donato, Catanha and Marcos Senna by becoming the fifth Brasileiro to represent Spain at senior level.
If Rodrigo's exhilarating exhibitions in Manizales are a prelude of what's to come, it won't be long before five becomes six. And if Mano Menezes begins to contemplate hijacking that possibility, he can think again according to Maria.
“Rodrigo's very proud to be a Brazilian, but he's fallen in love with playing for Spain,” she said. “He's very proud to wear their jersey and in the future would love to represent them at senior level. I don't think he's play for Brazil.”
And while that's an issue for the future, Rodrigo is fixated on the present. That fixation is lifting a striking silver, Lapis lazuli-based trophy in Bogota on 20 August – even if it does mean sickening fellow Brazilians en route.