K9 spurs Coxa challenge

An excited, expectant crowd engorged the Estadio Couto Pereira. There, on that 13 November 2007, the Coritiba supporters turned up to celebrate their recently-secured promotion to the Brazilian elite, and there they witnessed their team take a stride towards the Serie B trophy, on which their name would soon be inscribed.

The magnet of their adulation was teenage striker Keirrison, a product of their youth system, whose exceptional season continued with both goals in a 2-0 victory over Portuguesa. Heroes can rapidly become villains in football, however, and the Dourados native's flirtation with a move to Palmeiras earlier this year accounted for his tumble from vogue.

Keirrison's disposition to such a transfer was reasonable. O Verdão were one of the most celebrated and successful clubs in the country, while their coach, the venerated Vanderlei Luxemburgo, had identified the prolific youngster as his principal target.

A father's dream
Moreover, by moving to the Palestra Italia, Keirrison would be realising the ambition of no less an influence than his father. "It would be a dream to see my son playing there," enthused Adir, a former Operario forward.

It was a flattering, alluring proposition for the 19-year-old. Conflict ensued, Coritiba's reluctance to part with their prized asset colliding with Palmeiras' desire to land one of Brazil's brightest prospects. A resolution would not be found overnight.

Keirrison was, meantime, booed by sections of the Coritiba fans. Undeterred, he strove to shine rather than sulk. It was a mission he accomplished - emphatically - propelling his side to the Campeonato Paranaense title in April.

This conquest restored Keirrison's popularity, which was cemented when news broke that he would be staying in Curitiba. It was music to the ears of Coritiba devotees, whose Brasileirao opponents now faced the prospect of being deafened by his plangent tune.

Finding fitness and favour
And so they have. After retiring to the stands injured on Coritiba's opener - ironically against Palmeiras - K9 returned from eight weeks on the sidelines in Round 9, and has since illuminated the competition.

A cerebral front-runner, his excellent movement, positioning and control afford him shooting chances, from where he is an infallible punisher. Keirrison is adept at scoring opportunistic tap-ins, guided headers and piledrivers from the edge of the penalty area. However, he invariably favours precision over power, coolly passing the ball past goalkeepers and into the back of the net with unerring accuracy.

Keirrison has, despite his eight-week injury lay-off, 12 goals to his name in the Brasileirao 2008, a total bettered only by Kleber Pereira, Alex Mineiro and Guilherme. This return has been central to Coritiba, among the pre-season favourites for relegation, occupying ninth position, five points off the Copa Libertadores places with 13 games remaining.

The Libertadores is a competition that every player wants to participate in, and I'm no different. It would be great to represent Coritiba (in the Libertadores)
Keirrison on his desire to lead Coritiba into the Copa Libertadores 2008.

"I'm delighted I made the decision to stay," Keirrison explained. "I'm very happy to play for Coritiba and I want to help the club finish as high as possible in the Brasileiro. and try to win this title for the club that opened doors for me."

Sights set
A Coxa Branca's next step towards realising this ambitious target comes against Fluminense at the Maracana tomorrow, and although the Rio de Janeiro giants are struggling, Keirrison expects a tough challenge. "All matches in the Brasileiro are difficult, away or at home. Fluminense are in a situation that's a little more complicated than ours but we also need the result, so we have to go out with the belief that we can win."

Palmeiras' interest in Keirrison has since resurfaced, and Werder Bremen and Real Madrid have also flashed admiring glances his way. The player himself insists he is solely focused on Coritiba.

If Keirrison can maintain the form which has spearheaded their Libertadores charge, Brazil coach Dunga may be persuaded to afford K9 the chance to prove himself the long-term successor to R9.