Talented tandem leads Brazil
Every generation of Brazilians produces a few gems, and two of the latest to arrive off the conveyor belt are Jo and Leandro Lima, the talented little-and-large pairing who make up the Auriverde attack in Canada. To look at them, the two could not be more different: the one a towering goal machine, the other a diminutive and skilful speed merchant. And while neither managed to find the net in Brazil's opener against Poland, they are raring to go for their next outing against the South Koreans.
As on most Sundays, the Parc Jeanne Mance in the centre of Montreal is buzzing with activity, as local teams, many of them from the city's South American communities, do battle on the numerous synthetic pitches. This Sunday however is 1 July, Canada Day, and the presence of the Brazilian U-20 team, who have turned up for a somewhat improvised training session, only adds to the festive flavour. The Sunday regulars, who at first seem a touch annoyed that their sacred weekly ritual is being interrupted, are soon joining in the cries of 'Brazil, Brazil!' as they welcome the new arrivals.
As soon as they get off the team coach, Jo and Leandro Lima happily set about shaking hands and signing shirts. For the players, this warm reception is doubtless a welcome morale booster after Brazil's frustrating defeat at the hands of an impenetrable Polish outfit. "We were sad because obviously we wanted to win the game. But we are strong mentally and the confidence is always there," Jo, who is clearly a master of positive thinking, told FIFA.com. "We know that we have to win our next two matches, it's as simple as that."
The CSKA Moscow forward, who stands 1.89m and weighs in at 76kg, is the fulcrum of the team. With his gangling gait, he does not have the look of a natural goalscorer, but his 29 goals in 47 appearances for the Russian champions since his move last year prove that looks can be deceptive.
"He is an excellent forward, who plays a difficult linking role. He works very hard for his team-mates, and we know we can always rely on him. Also, he is the type of forward who gets back to help the defence, which is always appreciated," enthuses his strike partner, Leandro Lima.
Leandro, by contrast, is just 1.69m and weighs a mere 63kg. Brimming with skill and pace, he started his career with Sao Caetano, and is set to move to FC Porto this summer, a prospect which fills him with pride. "I'm thrilled to be moving to Europe. Every Brazilian player dreams of getting the chance to do that," he says. "It will be my first experience abroad, my first time away from Sao Caetano, so, of course, I'm a little bit apprehensive, but I know that everything will work out well," he grins.
Respect and confidence If he needs any tips on adapting to life in Europe, Leandro could always turn to Jo, although Portugal will seem a lot closer to home than Russia ever could. "The most difficult thing about being in Moscow is not being able to speak the language," reflects Jo. "But in fact, everything is different: the food, the culture... You just have to adapt, and the other Brazilian players who were already at CSKA - Daniel Carvalho, Dudu and Vagner Love - have helped me a lot."
Carvalho and Vagner Love, the longest-serving members of CSKA's Brazilian contingent, were part of the U-20 team that lifted the trophy in the United Arab Emirates in 2003, the last time that the Auriverdes won the title at this level, and Jo will be hoping to emulate that feat this summer.
Leandro has been handed the difficult task of replacing his predecessor at Porto, Anderson, following the latter's promotion to Brazil's senior side for their Copa America campaign this summer. Jo has no doubt that his new strike partner will rise to the challenge. "He is a very quick player, who brings something different to the team, and can surprise defences. And the fact that he has been called up to the Seleção shows he has the talent," says the CSKA Moscow man.
The two youngsters, who are ably supported in attack by the left-footed Alexandre Pato, are a genuine partnership. Leandro plays off Jo, whose job it is to draw defenders and create space for his team-mate. And while things did not quite work out for them against the Poles, the Auriverdes have great faith in their new forward line. "We only ever think about winning. The Koreans have a very good team, but if you want to be champions, you have to be confident in your ability to beat anyone," says Jo. "There is plenty of confidence in the squad, and we are all focused on winning. That is the only way to be if you want to succeed," adds Leandro.
The eternal problem for any Brazilian side, whatever the competition, is that they are automatically burdened with the favourites' tag. This is perhaps why the Seleção often make nervous starts to tournaments. "The whole world regards us as the favourites," agrees Jo. "We are aware of the responsibility that comes with that, but it is not what is foremost in our minds. We have to prove our worth in each and every match. And based on our first match, the notion that we are favourites might have seemed strange," he adds. "Brazil always go into a tournament expecting to win. That is perhaps why we are always considered among the favourites," adds Leandro. "But we always respect our opponents, and we give everything we have to win."
There is no doubting their confidence, and that defeat to Poland might just turn out to be a good omen. In 2005, current U-20 coach Nelson Rodrigues was in charge of the U-17 side that lost its opening match on Peruvian soil, only to go all the way to the final...