With one eye firmly on the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, there has been no shortage of Brazilian stars returning from Europe in a bid to regain their form and fitness. Following the likes of Seleção stars Adriano, Roberto Carlos and Robinho along this well-travelled path was Uruguay front-man Sebastian Abreu, who has positively thrived since joining Rio de Janeiro outfit Botafogo in January this year.
Indeed, El Loco Abreu has already won the hearts of the Engenhao faithful thanks to his commitment, abundant charisma and an impressive 11 goals in 15 appearances in the Carioca state championship. Having thus played a full part in O Glorioso winning both phases of the Rio competition and avoiding the need for a grand final, the well-travelled front-man has ensured he remains firmly in the plans of Uruguay boss Oscar Tabarez.
Tabarez is fortunate enough to count on the services of forwards Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, once again among the goals at Atletico Madrid and Ajax respectively this season and who are set to form a fearsome duo come South Africa 2010. Yet La Celeste, who kick off their Group A campaign against 1998 world champions France on 11 June, boast a fine Plan B in the shape of Abreu’s physical presence and penalty-area prowess.
“A national coach can’t afford to ignore an experienced player who’s is in great form, is winning titles and scoring goals in a league as strong as Brazil’s, is playing for a big club like Botafogo and who knows his way around the national set-up. Only the best players get chosen for the national squad,” said Abreu, a man clearly not short on confidence.
That level of self-belief was clearly illustrated in the final of the second phase of the Rio state championship against rivals Flamengo. With the scores locked at 1-1, O Fogão were awarded their second penalty of the game and with it the chance to take a decisive stride towards the title. Up stepped Abreu to dink home an audacious chipped effort, which grazed the underside of the crossbar before bouncing over the line – a virtual carbon copy of Zinedine Zidane’s effort in the Final of Germany 2006.
“I was totally aware of what I was doing, it’s just one way of tricking the keeper. I’ve done it several times before. I got a real buzz from it and as soon as I saw it cross the line I started celebrating,” said El Loco, whose spot-kick turned out to be the clincher after former Inter Milan striker Adriano missed a penalty late on for Fla.
Unlucky for some
Botafogo are the 17th team of Abreu’s nomadic career, which has taken in seven different countries. Among the highlights were spells in Mexico with Tecos and Cruz Azul, in Argentina with San Lorenzo and River Plate, with Spanish outfit Real Sociedad and of course at his beloved Nacional de Montevideo. And the 33-year-old could barely have wished for a finer start to his time at Bota, with the globe-trotting player looking very much an ideal fit for a club shrouded in superstition, myth and legend.
Indeed, the phrase “it could only happen to Botafogo” has been well-used by the club’s long-suffering supporters in recent years, particularly during defeats against Flamengo in the final of the last three Carioca championships and last year’s battle against relegation from Brazil’s Serie A. Yet the curse appears to have been lifted since Abreu was presented with the club’s No13 shirt from ex-Brazil boss Mario Zagallo, a hero of Os Alvinegros’ 1950s side who considers 13 to be his lucky number.
Coincidentally, to date El Loco has struck 13 times in 18 games for Fogo, while he has quickly struck up a fruitful partnership with Argentinian front-man German Herrera. The latter is in his third year in Brazilian football and his determined, hard-running style has proved an ideal foil for the predatory Abreu.
Off the field too, Abreu is thoroughly enjoying life in Rio, while as a Spanish speaker the language barrier is nowhere near as formidable as at his previous club: Greek outfit Aris Saloniki. “Living in Rio is really good for my family. The weather is great, I really like hot weather. My kids go to school here and are learning another language and can spend a lot of time out by the pool. When your family is happy and you’re at a good club then you can’t ask for any more.”
What is more, while fellow Uruguayan front-men Forlan and Suarez are still in the thick of gruelling campaigns over in Europe, following Bota’s Carioca success Abreu will not be back in competitive action until early May and the start of the 2010 Brasileirao. “When it comes to the World Cup, you can’t afford to be in anything less than top shape, and that's what I'm aiming for,” he says in a declaration that will be music to the ears of Celeste supremo Tabarez.