Taking a penalty in a shoot-out in front of some of Flamengo’s most fanatical fans at the Maracana is a daunting prospect. Yet it was without betraying the slightest sign of nerves that Eduardo da Silva placed the ball on the spot, before coolly tucking his shot into the corner - beyond the reach of the goalkeeper’s despairing dive.
It was hard to imagine that a little earlier the same cool customer had been so wildly celebrating his goal, Flamengo’s third, that sent his side’s Copa do Brasil Round of 16 match against Coritiba to penalties. However, playing on the same pitch where the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ Final was held, Eduardo da Silva felt at home in a way he has rarely experienced, even in his own country.
Born in Rio de Janeiro back in 1983, Flamengo’s No23 has taken a rather different career path to that of many Brazilian players. At the age of just 16, he left his city to enter the Dinamo Zagreb youth system, subsequently going on to become a Croatian citizen and play for his adopted country at international level.
Following further spells in England with Arsenal and in Ukraine with Shakhtar Donetsk, the prolific front-man finally signed for a Brazilian club for the first time when he was 31. Even so, the striker has seized this opportunity with both hands: helping himself to five goals in seven games (of which five appearances were as a substitute). Indeed, it is only off the field of play that Eduardo has found it harder to adjust.
“I was born here, but I'm still used to life over there. I spent 15 years in Europe and I still have a European mind-set,” he explained, when speaking with FIFA.com. “In my early days away there was no high-speed internet, none of this technology we have now. I used to buy a card for the payphone and spend a fortune just so I could talk to my family for a few minutes,” added Eduardo, who once had to endure three years without being able to return to Brazil.
Having also gone lengthy periods without giving interviews in Portuguese, he himself admits his language skills in his native tongue have got a bit rusty: “I find myself repeating the same 200 words over and over!" he said, with a smile.
And though he is enjoying life back in Rio, particularly the time at home with wife Andrea and children Lorena and Matheus, the experienced performer is finding driving and running errands rather more challenging. “When I’m out and about, I notice how different it is here (compared to Europe), I feel like a foreigner. Driving around is different, so is going to the supermarket, the shops… I’m still getting used to it,” added Eduardo, who originally hails from a working-class area of Rio. “I grew up in a more humble neighbourhood, then I went abroad and made my life over there. Now I’m back and getting used to it again, but I’m still a bit lost – especially when driving!”
The culture shock has been greater still because of the sheer stature of his new club Flamengo – Eduardo’s fast start to life with Fla swiftly handing him star status at Brazil’s most popular team. Languishing in the relegation zone before his arrival, O Mengão have since leapt up to tenth in the standings. “Every time you turn on the TV or the radio people are talking about football, and particularly Flamengo,” he said.
I thought it would be easy, but once I arrived I found it was totally different to what I had imagined. The Brazilian league is very difficult.
“I remember coming back to Brazil on holiday when I was playing for Dinamo [Zagreb], and I would always buy my bread at the same bakery. Even though I was already a Croatia international, people didn’t know who I was, and I could walk around like anyone else. Nowadays it’s a little different: people do recognise me now!”
On the field
Displaying the capable finishing that has been a hallmark of his career, Eduardo has been among the goals remarkably regularly for someone still readjusting to the climate and style of football in homeland. What makes his early feats even more impressive is the fact he has had little opportunity to catch Brazilian football on TV during his time in the Old Continent.
“I always wanted to watch the games, but they were never on TV – they’d only show the goals,” he said. “No one showed much interest in the Brazilian championship, though over the last three or four years you’ve been able to catch games live in the Ukraine and Croatia.”
Keen to do his homework before signing on the dotted line for O Rubro-Negro, Eduardo also spoke to a number of fellow Brazilians to seek their advice. “It’ll be fine,” was the general opinion voiced, and Eduardo admits their reassurance made him lower his guard.
“I thought it would be easy, but once I arrived I found it was totally different to what I had imagined. The Brazilian league is very difficult, very competitive. Looks can be deceiving. There are a lot of skilful players here and everyone is comfortable on the ball.”
That being the case, what has been the key to his rapid-fire adaptation to life in the Brasileirão? “I don’t know," he answered with a grin, as the conversation concluded. “I’ve made a positive impression at all the clubs I’ve played for. Of course, this is a very important time for me. After all, I’m playing for Flamengo.”