As a small boy, scoring goal after goal on the pitches of Vila Kennedy, Rio de Janeiro, there can be little doubt Eduardo da Silva will – like untold millions of other Brazilian youngsters – have dreamed of one day representing A Seleção at the FIFA World Cup™. And yet, though he is likely to play a part in the Opening Match of Brazil 2014 at Arena de Sao Paulo on 12 June, which features the host nation, it will not be in the colours of the country of his birth, but of adopted homeland Croatia.
Mixed feelings are, therefore, sure to arise for the 31-year-old striker, who spent eight years in Croatia after first arriving in 1999 and has represented the Vatreni for the past decade. While vowing that his “heart is now Croatian”, the former Dinamo Zagreb and Arsenal player – currently plying his trade for Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk – spoke fully and frankly to FIFA.com about everything surrounding the Opening Match and how he will handle such a pivotal moment in his lengthy career.
FIFA.com: You missed the opportunity of playing at Germany 2006, after then coach Zlatko Kranjcar suggested you were too young, while four years later Croatia failed to qualify. Now, with the World Cup to take place in your birth country, you’ll make your competition debut in the colours of another nation...
Eduardo da Silva: Without a doubt this is a little odd, but I see it as a great opportunity too. I have missed three major tournaments, because there was [UEFA] EURO 2008 as well, when I was still recovering from injury. I experienced what it was like to play [at a major competition] at EURO 2012, but your first World Cup is something special. I could never have imagined this situation: to be Brazilian and have the chance to play in a World Cup in your own country, but in the shirt of another national team. And on top of that, just to complicate things, there’s the Opening Match between the two countries. I could never have imagined such a huge coincidence.
My blood is Brazilian, but my heart is now Croatian.
FIFA.com: And with Mario Mandzukic ruled out of the fixture, there’s an even greater chance of you being selected. Have you been preparing mentally for the occasion?
Eduardo: A few days before I joined the squad, when I was still focusing on playing for my club in the Ukrainian league, I hadn’t really stopped to think about it. But now that I have already spent the first few days with the squad, that the team have started their preparations and are focused on this next step, you start to think about it more, to imagine what this moment is going to be like. And this is really it now. I’m preparing myself mentally and physically for this match.
FIFA.com: Can you imagine what it’s going to be like when the two sides are lined up before the game and the national anthems are playing?
Eduardo: Look, I’m a Brazilian and I’ll always be a Brazilian, but I have a great love for Croatia, a real feeling for the supporters and for my team-mates. I think I can say it like this: my blood is Brazilian, but my heart is now Croatian. It’ll be a difficult moment for me, I’m sure you understand. If only I had the chance to sing both anthems. I think I am going to feel torn.
FIFA.com: And what would be the perfect result in this game?
Eduardo: It’s difficult to forecast. I prefer not to talk about the result. What I can say is that a perfect outcome would be for Croatia to put on a great show. Brazil are the favourites to win the whole World Cup, not just this match, but I believe that Croatia are preparing very well and are well capable of producing a big performance.
FIFA.com: Since the draw for the group stage and this particular match arose, you have been in a certain way the centre of attention. Have the Croatian supporters said anything about it, or made any jokes about the situation you find yourself in?
Eduardo: Yes, people are talking about it a lot, but generally it has been intended to spur us on. Many people have said that it will be me that scores the winning goal. Others have said that I will come on with 20 minutes to go and score a goal. It acts as a motivational factor because it shows you how immersed everyone is. And it has its other side too, where some people say that I should make sure not to score an own-goal! But I take it all in the right spirit, it’s all part of the process.
FIFA.com: And in Vila Kennedy, how are the fans reacting there? Do people joke with your family about all of this or will everybody be supporting Croatia because of you?
Eduardo: Look, it’s not something I find easy to talk about. There are some things that are better kept quiet. But as far as my friends are concerned, many of them joke that Brazil are going to win, but that it will be me who scores the Croatia goal. It’s more or less in this way that people are approaching it.
FIFA.com: Apart from yourself, Croatia can count on another Brazilian in their World Cup squad. Will you and Sammir be able to offer any guidance to your team-mates and coach Nico Kovac? Do people come to you to ask about technical issues or share little tips, for example?
Eduardo: Yes, and it’s understandable that they should do that. That said, sometimes I cannot help much, because I don’t know that much about Brazil as a whole, basically just Rio de Janeiro. However, the staff have been looking after this side of things for some time now, have been to Brazil a number of times, gathered all the information we need and just occasionally come to confirm things with me, ask me little things. I do my utmost to offer help.
FIFA.com: How do you see Brazil and what have you had to say to coach Kovac about their current form?
Eduardo: Before the Confederations Cup, Brazil had lost a little of their aura, but things have changed a lot and the whole world has now gone back to talking about the strength of this squad. It’s a squad with young, hungry players, who want to win the title for the sixth time and do it on home soil. They are the big favourites to win the World Cup but a lot will depend on this first game with Croatia. The Opening Game is always tough: it’s a game with a lots of nerves and huge pressure on the players. If Brazil win, they can lift some of this pressure and go a long way, but if they fail to win, they will have lots of problems for the remaining games.
FIFA.com: If they don’t win, that will be because Croatia played a great game themselves. With this in mind, how far can your team go?
Eduardo: The objective is to reach the knockout phase. If that can be accomplished, we will already be facing a ‘final’ against either the Netherlands, Spain or Chile, which are all really dangerous teams. And if Croatia get through this round too, we can go on to emulate the France 1998 performance (when they reached the last four) or go even further. We are full of confidence and have the complete backing of the media and the fans. It is really positive for us because they recognise that we have a strong generation of players, one of the best in our history. We need to confirm that this is true, go as far as possible in the tournament and try and surpass the achievements of the ‘98 generation. We’ll do everything in our power to accomplish this.