Brazil opener means more for Moreno Martins

  • Copa America reconnecting Marcelo Moreno Martin's to Brazilian roots

  • "Playing in Brazil against Brazil makes this the Copa of my dreams."

  • Bolivian striker faces hosts on 14 June

Marcelo Moreno Martins is about to enjoy one of the highlights of his career. When he runs out at the Estadio Morumbi on Friday for Bolivia’s meeting with Brazil in the opening match of the Copa America Brazil 2019, he will no doubt experience a whole range of emotions.

The 31-year-old is just three goals away from pulling level with Joaquin Botero as Bolivia’s all-time leading goalscorer on 20. Yet while he has his sights firmly set on moving closer to a landmark achievement, his evening in Sao Paulo will be about much more than chasing a record; it will take him back to his roots, to the early days of his footballing journey.

“Playing in Brazil and against Brazil makes this the Copa of my dreams,” he said. “My wife is Brazilian, my father is Brazilian, and I played and scored for the Brazilian national youth team. I have a lot of ties with Brazil. It’s very dear to me. It was the country that opened the doors to a career in football for me, and I’ve been preparing all year for this tournament.”

The front man was born in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra but moved at a young age to Brazil. His gift for goalscoring led to him playing for A Verdeamarela in two youth tournaments, both of which he scored in.

“It’s not easy at all to get a game for Brazil when you’re a foreigner. If you look back in time, there have been very few of us. It’s a gift I was able to give my father.”

The chance was there for you to play for the senior team. Now that time has gone by, have you settled on why you decided to accept Bolivia’s offer in 2007?

I’ve asked myself that question many times. I don’t regret it because the Bolivian national team is the reason why I’m the player I am today. I’m very grateful for the prominent role they gave me. And for me it’s the ultimate, even if it’s not as big a team as Brazil or Argentina. I know I was in contention for a World Cup place with Brazil, but things happened very quickly and I had to decide. They presented me with a project. They thought about me. I can look at myself in the mirror today and know that I made the right decision.

What’s Brazilian about you and what’s Bolivian?

I feel half and half because of my roots. My mindset is Brazilian and the quality of football I was taught to play came from Brazilian father and from being in Brazil. My strength, determination and desire to win all come from Bolivia. Those are all the things that have made me the player I am today.

Marcelo Moreno Martins pose with Brazilian team prior a match between Bolivia and Brazil as part of FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifiers at Hernando Siles Stadium on October 05, 2017 in La Paz, Bolivia. (Photo by imago/ Agencia APG)

How many times have you played out Friday’s match in your head?

Ever since I knew it was going to be Brazil. Day in day out, this Copa America has been the motivation for me to go out and be at my best. The Morumbi has got a great atmosphere and I’m picturing it now. I can see my family, a lot of Brazil and Bolivia flags and pumped-up Brazil fans. They’re images that I’ll remember forever. I also want to do justice to Chinese football. I’ve been playing there for the last five years and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve never been so disciplined. I’ve been preparing really well physically, mentally and technically for some big matches.

What are Bolivia hoping to achieve at the Copa America?

It’s a new-look team with a mix of young players who have very little experience. There are four experienced players in the 23. This is a tournament where they can get some exposure and prepare for the Qatar [2022] qualifiers. We’re doing all we can to create a solid team, one that can win at home and pick up points on the road too, which is what gets you to World Cups.

The team has been in inconsistent form, though.

We don’t have many role models and that burden falls on the young players, who need role models in Europe to help them get away. There’s a lot of poverty in Bolivia and we don’t have as many resources as other countries. We have to make do with what we’ve got. We need to work really hard at youth level to produce players who can really perform, so the national team can find that stability.

In the short term how can you close the gap on the rest?

By doing what we’re doing now, trying to find players who can wear the jersey, giving them games. We’ve been doing things really well since the end of last year. We’ve played against Korea [Republic], Japan, France, to name but a few. There are players who’ve never played against these teams or who’ve made their debuts against them, which is really useful for them. There are a lot of quality players in Bolivia but they don’t have a showcase. There are a lack of opportunities for players to go to more competitive leagues.

What should your contribution be?

I’m 31 and I’m three goals away from becoming the country’s all-time leading goalscorer. I’ve still got a lot to give. My big objective is to take Bolivia to a World Cup. I know how hard it is to take on and beat Brazil and the continent’s other big teams but I know we can make it happen. And I want to be there for it. I want to give that gift to my country. I hope the Brazil game marks the start of a good run for Bolivia. We have to see it as our most important game and we have to put our all into it. Let’s hope we have a great day and can score a goal.

Are you going to celebrate if you score?

Of course! I’m going to celebrate a lot! It’s not easy to score against a team like that.