Sao Paulo's attacking right-back has been one of the most talked-about Brazilians of late. After enchanting fans back in Brazil with his dazzling wing play, Cicero Joao de Cezare, or simply Cicinho, exploded onto the international scene at the FIFA Confederations Cup Germany 2005, where he played a pivotal role in the Auriverde's victory.
Despite constant rumours surrounding a possible move to Real Madrid in January, the wing-back is taking it all in his stride and focusing solely on Sunday's final of the FIFA Club World Championship TOYOTA Cup Japan 2005, when his side take on English giants Liverpool.
"I'm very relaxed and happy to be playing for Sao Paulo. Now all I'm thinking about is defeating Liverpool and winning the title," the player said time and time again as he tried to deal with a barrage of questions from journalists about his future.
Renowned for his blistering pace and exquisite technique, which he frequently employs to create space on the right flank, Cicinho is fully focused on Sao Paulo's quest for glory in Japan. His side were made to work a lot harder than many expected to see off a valiant Al Ittihad side in the semi-finals, where it took a converted penalty from Ceni and a brace from Amoroso - the second of which Cicinho created with a precise assist - to justify their tag as favourites and go through to the final.
"We knew it was going to be difficult, but we fought all the way to win that game," said Cicinho when he spoke to FIFA.com. "That degree of parity was to be expected as we're participating in a world championship with the best club sides in the world. In the end though, we got the win we set out for and made it to the final. Now we hope to go on and win the title."
In their next outing against Liverpool, the Tricolor will need to show a lot more consistency at the back if they are not to be punished by Gerrard, Crouch and Co as they were in the semi-final by Noor and Al Montashari. "We need to keep improving and go into the game with dedication, focus and tactical discipline. We have all the ingredients in place for victory, but it will doubtless be tough given Liverpool's strength," the player predicts.
"I think the key to victory will be in the way individuals perform. They deploy two lines of four, whereas we stick to 3-5-2. The Liverpool players move the ball around more and often prefer high balls to individual exploits," said Cicinho, who feels technique is the strong point of the South Americans champions. Liverpool's aerial play is one of the facets of their game that most worries the Sao Paulo defence. "They will be hard to defend against in the air, and we can't leave them any spaces," opines the Brazilian. Nonetheless, he remains convinced that the quality of his team-mates, most of whom are experienced internationals, will tip the balance in his side's favour." Brazilian football is the best in the world, and so we're ready to go our there and take the title," he tells us with unshakeable confidence.
A meteoric rise
Cicinho's life has been turned on its head over the last ten months. He played his first international for Carlos Alberto Parreira on 27 April against Guatemala, and barely two months later won the FIFA Confederations Cup. By July he had helped Sao Paulo to victory in the Copa Libertadores. Now he finds himself one game away from being crowned club world champion and on the verge of a move overseas.
"My life has changed a lot, but I still try to deal with things naturally and intelligently and make responsible decisions," says the 25-year-old right-back. "A lot of good things have happened to me very quickly, but they are all the fruit of my work. When all is said and done, this is what every player looks for."
Regarded by many as Cafu's natural heir, a comparison he says he dislikes ("I don't know why they say that. Cafu and I play very differently"), Cicinho claims he will never forget his side's win over Atletico Paranaense at the Morumbi Stadium that earned them their ticket to Japan. "It was my dream to win the Copa Libertadores. In 2004 we lost in the semi-finals, so we simply had to win it in 2005, and we did. Now we want to become the best team in the world," he says.
On the way to this year's Copa Libertadores triumph, Cicinho entered the record books as the player who scored the 10,000th goal in the history of the South American club competition after netting against Palmeiras in the round of 16. With time almost up, he curled home a magnificent free kick to give Sao Paulo a 2-0 win. "I was thrilled to make that little bit of history. Scoring the competition's 10,000th goal in my hundredth game for Sao Paulo while helping them into the last eight was stupendous," he said.
"Hopefully I can also make history at the Club World Championship by scoring in the final. If the opportunity comes my way, well and good, but my responsibility is to orchestrate attacks and let my team-mates move into spaces where they can score. If I were to set up a goal, I'd also be very happy," he says.
A self-confessed admirer of Jorginho, Cicinho says he was surprised to see so many torçedores (Brazilian fans) at their first game. "We knew the Japanese had a special place in their hearts for us Brazilians, but I didn't think quite so many fans from back home would fly out here to support us. The only way to show them our appreciation is by giving them the title," the player concluded with a broad smile.