While the race for FIFA World Cup™ qualification holds within it the career aspirations of thousands of professional footballers around the world, Croatian forward Eduardo da Silva has an additional dream he is trying to fulfil - to play on the game's biggest stage in his native Brazil.

Born in Rio de Janeiro, and beginning his playing career in the city with club side Bangu, he moved to Croatia as a 16-year-old. Taking citizenship three-years later, he has gone on to represent his adopted nation 54 times but, while his allegiance is very much with his European team-mates, the prospect of playing back in the place he first called home is proving to huge draw for the Shakhtar Donestk frontman.

On top of that, he’s well aware that this could be his last chance to appear on football’s biggest stage. “It is a dream of mine to play in my first, and possibly my last, World Cup in my home town of Rio, close to my friends who support me,” the 30-year-old said. “I’m really excited now and have a lot of motivation to do this in what I expect is my last try, so I will do all I can to qualify for Brazil. It would mean so much for us to qualify, but we still have a job to do.”

Drawn in Group A, their task looked a tough one when they were allocated their opposition almost two years ago. Ranked as one of the top seeds, Croatia obviously had the odds in their favour to reach Brazil 2014 but, despite their section not featuring any traditionally dominant sides, they found themselves in a group with much strength in depth.

Jostling for position
Even so, Igor Stimac’s side have been largely dominant, separated from top spot by goal difference alone. “We have been doing very well in our group so far, competing with Serbia, Belgium, Macedonia, Scotland and Wales,” Eduardo said. “We are minimally in second in the group, but that is still second place, and we will continue to fight to go automatically to Brazil.”

Locked on 16 points alongside the Belgians - the pair’s 1-1 draw in Brussels being both sides only dropped points - with the halfway mark already passed, it’s almost certainly a two horse race for the automatic qualification spot. “We are doing very well, so far we are in a good position but Belgium are doing well also and it’s very close between us. It will be very interesting when we play them in two games’ time as it will play a big part in deciding who makes it into the World Cup.

“We have the second game against Serbia in Belgrade to come, as well as playing twice against Scotland, and with the worst runner-up not reaching the play-off we also can’t relax too much,” Eduardo insisted. “If we do go into the play-offs we could face France, Spain, England or Portugal, so we will try to win our games and top the group.”

I found it difficult to adapt at first but in time it became my home. My heart is in Croatia but I will always be fond of Brazil.

Eduardo on making the move to Croatia

Their visit to Belgrade is potentially a huge one. Not only is it a local rivalry, and the national side’s first visit to the Serbian capital, it could also be the game that sees them seal their spot in the top two. Should the Croats beat Scotland on Friday, a point against their neighbours in September would deny the hosts any chance of reaching Brazil. However, should Serbia drop point against Belgium, that fate could already be confirmed.

Croatia and Serbia’s first meeting since becoming independent states was billed as a titanic grudge match, but Eduardo feels the game, which the Croats won 2-0 thanks to goals from Mario Mandzukic and Ivica Olic, was somewhat over-hyped.

“For me I treated it as a normal game, we played for three points like just like when we played against Wales or Belgium,” he said matter-of-factly. “I think the media made a bigger deal out of this game than necessary, all the players were very polite during it.”

He was also confident that the return fixture will not be intimidating for those in red and white, with an atmosphere as fervent as that seen in Zagreb likely to greet them. “All the players in the Croatian side play for top teams and have a lot of experience, so I expect we will be able to cope with the atmosphere in Belgrade.”

Heartfelt return
Victory against Gordon Strachan’s Scotland for the side currently occupying fourth in FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking would keep the chance of automatic qualification very much alive, though room for mistakes are minimal. Were they to achieve it though, it would pull off a homecoming for Eduardo that has been 15 years in the making.

The culture shock of moving halfway around the world was obviously a tough one for the South American, but having now spent a third of his life sporting the chequered shirt of his new homeland, he has no doubts about where his loyalties are. “Naturally I found it difficult to adapt at first but in time it became my home. My heart is in Croatia but I will always be fond of Brazil.”

With the top teams in Brazil attracting big names back to South America, with the likes of Alexandre Pato, Lucio, Ronaldinho and former Shakhtar team-mate Jadson all all returning to compete in the Campeonato, Eduardo has not ruled out a return to the nation in club football too.

“Recently players have moved there after playing in Europe and done very well. One day this could be possible. It is an exciting league and I think I could offer something with my style of play.” However, it’s clear that the way Eduardo really wants to return to the land of his birth during arguably Brazil's biggest-ever sporting party.