Seleção in safe hands
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While it is true that every goal-frame in professional football measures 7.32m x 2.44m, some unquestionably feel bigger than others. The onus of being the last line of defence for your club or country heaps enormous responsibility on the game's top custodians, for whom keeping goal can often be a thankless task.  

It is only logical then that pulling on the No1 shirt for Brazil is not for the faint-hearted. Conversely, though, if you do make the grade between the Seleção sticks, then acclaim and recognition come hand in hand. A case in point is Rafael, whose performances in making the Brazilian defence one of the most secure at the FIFA U-20 Word Cup Egypt 2009 have been a key component in his side's march to the final.

"I wouldn't say I've done any more or less than anyone else," the player told in the build-up to Friday's showdown with Ghana. "In the final analysis, my contribution is worth the same as that of my team-mates. In this squad we're focused on the collective and don't make those kind of distinctions. One game it could be my turn to deliver, the next day someone else's. Everyone contributes in some way to each victory and the Costa Rica game was no different," said the 1.91m Brazilian.

Though modesty prevents him from saying it, his composure and shot-stopping in the quarter-final against Germany were crucial, not least when his side were trailing 1-0. Three or four vital saves kept the Auriverde in the game, paving the way for a memorable comeback. In their tight semi-final against Los Ticos, Rafael was again instrumental in keeping the opposition at bay. The closest he came to being beaten, he says, was from a David Guzman free-kick with the game still scoreless. "He got some serious power and direction on the ball, and I only just managed to launch myself and get a hand to it," he recalls.

I think it's going to be a great contest and also an open game. I could be in for a busy evening!
Rafael, Brazil goalkeeper.

Rafael Pires Monteiro, to give him his full name, was born on 23 June 1989 in Coronel Fabriciano, a municipality of some 100,000 inhabitants 180km from the Minas Gerais state capital Belo Horizonte. The keeper is a product of the youth academy at local giants Cruzeiro, where he has now broken into the first team squad but still awaits his official debut.

Why did I choose to be a goalkeeper? "My mum tells everyone that when I was four years old I used to run about the place shouting ‘I want to be like Taffarel'," he says with a smile. That said his role model is not the man who helped Brazil to the title at the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™ and runners-up spot four years later at France 1998. "My goalkeeping idols are Julio Cesar and [Heurelho]Gomes. My style is similar to that of Gomes, perhaps because he also came through the ranks at Cruzeiro," he says.

Despite his tender years, Rafael is only too aware of what it means to keep goal for Brazil. "It's not easy playing for the Seleção as you always have to be the best in the world. For that reason you need to be fully focused at all times, as every mistake is magnified."

For all that, the young keeper is very pleased with the way things are going in Egypt. "I'm very happy to be here and to be able to take part in a World Cup final. It's a dream come true." Turning his thoughts to Friday's opponents, Rafael adds: "Ghana are a great team. They have pace, a superb attack and deserve to be in the final every bit as much as we do. I think it's going to be a great contest and also an open game. I could be in for a busy evening!"

Asked about the precise threat posed by the Black Satellites' front line, Rafael says coach Rogerio Lourenco will make sure he is informed. "The boss always gives us a few specifics about our opponents so we can take their strengths and weaknesses into account when preparing." In spite of that, he insists the focus will be mainly on his own team's game plan: "I'm confident we'll give everything in the final to achieve the goal we set ourselves on coming here, which was to do whatever it takes to become champions."