How Leandro Damiao became Brazil's latest superstar striker
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Saturday is South America day, and here's I Like Football Me 's Euan Marshall with his take on the week's big issues in the region.
Truly world-class strikers have been constants in all of the great Brazilian sides of the past. In the 1950s they had the diminutive Zizinho and afterwards came Pele – the greatest player in the history of the game. Rivellino and Jairzinho did a more than decent job in his absence, though. Romario was the king of the 1990s until a forward with a goofy smile named Ronaldo took his place and scored the most goals for the Selecao since o Rei retired from international football in 1971.
Many players have since tried to fill that role (Adriano, Luis Fabiano, and Alexandre Pato to name but a few) - so far to no real success. The lack of a proper goal-scorer could certainly account for Brazil’s relatively poor performance at the top level since 2006, and finding a new number nine is of utmost importance in the preparations for the 2014 World Cup on home soil.
And after this week, it would appear that they can now call off the search party.
22 year-old Leandro Damiao has made an astounding impact since bursting on to the scene in Brazil at the start of this year. Previously unknown and untested, Leandro got his big chance at Internacional after their disappointing World Club Cup performance, where they lost to Congolese side TP Mazembe in the semi-finals. Leandro was drafted into the starting line-up and handed the number nine jersey in Inter’s State Championship squad and he took full advantage of the opportunity, scoring 17 times in only 13 appearances - a streak that included three consecutive hat-tricks.
In the middle of these spectacular performances at domestic level, he also led the line for Internacional in the Copa Libertadores – South America’s answer to the Champions League – where he scored a further four goals. His meteoric rise was complete in March, when national coach Mano Menezes selected him for Brazil’s friendly match against Scotland. For a player that had never come close to selection for his national team at any age level, this call-up was certainly a dream come true.
Typically all of this success brought him to the attention of top European sides, and in the recent transfer window he was subject to much attention from several teams, most notably Tottenham Hotspur, who appeared to be close to signing him. Internacional – the same side that developed talents such as Nilmar, Alexandre Pato and Tottenham’s Sandro – opted not to cash in on him just yet, and he stayed put in Brazil.
It has turned out to be a pretty good move for Leandro as instead of having to work hard to adapt to a new European league, he is banging in the goals in Brazil and making himself virtually un-droppable for the national side. Two weeks ago he started for Brazil in their friendly against Ghana and put in a great performance that included scoring the winning goal.
But perhaps two of his best moments have come within the last seven days. Last Sunday, Leandro single-handedly tore apart league rivals Palmeiras in Sao Paulo, scoring a brilliant striker’s hat-trick which left both sets of fans in the ground applauding his performance. For his first goal he showed great balance and strength, shrugging off his defender before lifting a lovely finish over Brazil’s 2002 World Cup-winning goalkeeper Marcos. His second displayed his intelligence and great positioning around the penalty area, as he peeled off his defender and tucked his finish underneath Marcos to wrap up the points for Inter. The third was certainly the icing on the cake as with minutes left to go, he finished off a slick counter attacking move, taking it past his defender and then delicately rounding the goalkeeper and rolling the ball into the empty net.
Personally, this was one of the best centre forward displays I have seen for a long while, as quite simply, without Leandro Damiao the result would have been very different.
The other special moment came just three days ago, when Brazil faced Argentina in the re-instated Copa Roca tournament between the two nations. Damiao played the full ninety minutes and even though he had a fairly quiet overall performance, he pulled off a ridiculous piece of skill in the second half which very nearly resulted in one of the greatest goals in Selecao history.
Out on the right wing with only 15 minutes to go and the scores tied at nil-nil, Leandro took on Argentine full-back Emiliano Papa and instead of trying to knock the ball past him, he executed a perfect lambreta (often referred to as a ‘rainbow flick’ or ‘sombrero’) and flicked the ball over Papa’s head. He then directed a cheeky lob to the far corner of the goal which completely beat the keeper, but unfortunately came back off the post ( watch it here ).
It was one of those moments that left you open-mouthed after watching it, and paired with his stunning hat-trick only three days before, it’s clear that in Leandro, we have a really special player on our hands.