x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Rivaldo to light up crunch tie

When Rivaldo was at the peak of his powers, no one could rival him for sheer audaciousness. A decade later, he is plying his trade in the Uzbek League with Bunyodkor.

Al Shabab will attempt to keep pace with the decorated Brazilian Rivaldo, left, in the AFC Champions League game at the Al Maktoum Stadium.
Al Shabab will attempt to keep pace with the decorated Brazilian Rivaldo, left, in the AFC Champions League game at the Al Maktoum Stadium.

When Rivaldo was at the peak of his powers, no one could rival him for the sheer audaciousness of his goals. One of the most talented players of all time, he was blessed with both artistry and efficacy. He was one of the stars of the Brazilian World Cup triumph in 2002 and was the Fifa and European Player of the Year in 1999.

Rivaldo was also the darling of Barcelona and the Primera Liga in those heady days. A decade later, he is plying his trade in the Uzbek League with Bunyodkor. Age might have diminished his dexterity, but now at the age of 36 he will still be the most marked man on the field tonight against Al Shabab in a Group D match of the AFC Champions League. Marcos Assuncao, Rivaldo's Brazilian teammate during the late 1990s, has been handed the unenviable task of keeping the ageing maestro in check.

"I will be doing the job of marking Rivaldo and I know how to deal with him," said Assuncao, who has crossed paths with Rivaldo in the Brazilian league at the start of their careers and later in Europe when the Shabab captain was playing for AS Roma and Real Betis. "At the start of the game, you will see that we will take special care of him," warned Assuncao. "I am really looking forward to playing against him,

"It is great to be playing against the top players once again and Bunyodkor has many of them. It is not much fun playing against weaker teams. You start to play at the same level as them." As Assuncao makes his plans for Rivaldo, coach Toninho Cerezo hopes his other players will learn from the duel and gain in self-belief from playing against the top stars. "It will be a great experience for our team to play against a player of Rivaldo's stature," he said. "I am sure my players will learn a lot."

With all the talk revolving around Rivaldo, it is easy to forget that Bunyodkor also boast of the 2008 Asian Player of the Year, Server Djeparov, in their ranks. On his last visit here, Djeparov, 26, held absolute sway as the Uzbekistan national team beat the UAE in a 2010 World Cup qualifier. He is hoping he can repeat that performance, though he is aware that he will be singled out for special attention.

"The more popular you get, the more attention you attract from your opponents," he said. "You have a lot more players marking you. But I hope I can play my part and help the team get a positive result here." The Bunyodkor coach Memet Amet Abdullaevich added: "Our aim is to win the match and play an amazing game. We know there is a difference between playing at home and away, but we will got out and attack."

Cerezo, however, believes the home advantage means little against a side like Bunyodkor if his players don't rise to the challenge. We are playing at home, but it will not be any great advantage to us or be the deciding factor," he said. "It is nice to be playing at home, in front of our supporters and in weather conditions that we are used to. "These things do balance things out a little between us.

"At the same time, when the game starts it is only the players that matter. "If you have better players than your opponents, than you have the better chances. "So, we can say that Bunyodkor will start as favourites. But when the game starts, I have played enough football to know that anything can happen." arizvi@thenational.ae