| DECO: ‘The atmosphere has been great’
Lisbon: After a spectacular debut for Portugal against his native Brazil, midfielder Deco has silenced critics who grumbled that he had adopted Portuguese nationality for convenience.
Deco’s free-kick in Saturday’s friendly caught out Brazilian goalkeeper Marcos and gave Portugal the winner in their 2-1 victory over the reigning world champions, the first time they had beaten Brazil since a match in the 1966 World Cup.
The goal came as no surprise, however, to a home crowd who have watched Deco blast home set pieces and tear through defences all season to give his club Porto a runaway lead in the Portuguese premiership.
Born in Sao Paulo in 1977, Deco — full name Anderson Luis de Souza — arrived in Portugal in 1997 to play for lowly Alverca. He then moved to Salgueiros and has played for Porto since the 1999-2000 season.
With eight games left to play in the Portuguese championship, Deco’s Porto have a 13-point lead at the top of the table and have been drawn against Lazio in the Uefa Cup semi-finals on April 10 and 24.
Discussion on off-pitch issues is intense in a country of just 10 million people that sustains three sports dailies and Deco easily became Portugal’s most talked-about player when he assumed Portuguese nationality in February.
Without mentioning any names, Luis Figo told the local press that “you can learn national anthems but not feel them”.
The fact that Figo spoke out in the same week that Deco went to pick up his new passport was not lost on Portugal’s straight-talking trainer Luiz Felipe Scolari, who led Brazil to a record fifth World Cup win in Japan last year.
“Whoever wants to can play. If anyone doesn’t, the door is open,” he said.
Playmaker Rui Costa also said he opposed naturalising players on principle but took pains to say he personally admired Deco as a player.
Brazil’s new trainer Carlos Alberto Parreira also chimed in shortly before his side played Portugal and said that Deco was a big fish in a small pond.
It was alongside Costa that Deco donned a Portuguese ruby-coloured short for the first time in a controversial substitution, when he replaced a very much on-form Sergio Conceicao and played out of position on the wing.
After the game, Scolari said he could not have taken off Costa to make way for Deco, whom he was determined to play.
“Deco didn’t just open up, he was a great help in that position, because that's the type of player he is. People in Portugal must understand that his naturalisation wasn’t just to play for Portugal. He did so because he feels Portuguese.
“He will help us on the wing, in the middle, wherever. And that’s the spirit I want from the team.”
Deco himself brushed off the naturalisation row. “I always said that I took Rui and Figo’s words as against a situation and Rui himself said he had nothing against me.
“The atmosphere has been great and I think I have never been made as welcome in a new team as in the national side,” he said.
Figo meanwhile watched Portugal beat Brazil from the bench and declined to talk to reporters after the game, which prompted speculation of a row with Scolari, although “Big Phil” said the Real Madrid player was injured.