The Dutch will have to watch out for Brazil's star player of the tournament so far, Gary Meenaghan reports.
Spotlight back on Luis Fabiano
JOHANNESBURG // On this day last year Luis Fabiano, the Brazil forward, was travelling home from South Africa with a Golden Boot award having scored five goals in as many games to help his country lift the Confederations Cup. The performances saw the Sao Paulo-born striker subjected to speculation linking him to a multi-million euro transfer away from Sevilla, the domestic side who had in 2005 shown belief in him following an unsuccessful season at FC Porto.
Initially Luis Fabiano chose to stay quiet, but eventually he spoke out, saying: "AC Milan are one the biggest clubs in the world [and] I realise that at the age of 28, there will be few other chances like this for me." The move never materialised and instead the Italian giants completed the signing of Klaas-Jan Hunterlaar, from Real Madrid, who Luis Fabiano will tomorrow come face to face with when Brazil meet Holland in the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
Hunterlaar has experienced a testing time to date in Italy and the rumour mill is already swirling regarding a potential transfer merry-go-round. Luis Fabiano has been in fine form so far this summer, scoring three times, including a vital, albeit controversial, brace against Ivory Coast, and Adriano Galliani, the Milan vice-president, is ready to return to the negotiation table in a bid to capture last year's target.
"He is the player who has excited me most at this World Cup," said the Italian. For the national side, Luis Fabiano is flourishing in front of Kaka, the playmaker who he played alongside while at Sao Paulo. Two of the forward's three goals have stemmed from assists from the midfielder and the striker yesterday hailed the special understanding the two share. "We have a perfect connection," Luis Fabiano said. "We understand each other. I just have to get in position and I know he will get the ball to me."
Kaka added: "We have a very good connection, especially because of the time we played together for Sao Paulo. One look is enough to know what we are going to do. I hope to give him many more assists in the rest of the World Cup and that he ends up as the top scorer." Leading the charge for the Golden Boot this summer is Gonzalo Higuain of Argentina, and David Villa, the Spain forward, who both have four goals. But Luis Fabiano, who had scored just once in his previous nine games before Brazil's World Cup opener against North Korea, has been adamant since the beginning of the tournament that team success is more important than personal plaudits.
"I'm trying to help Brazil win the title, that's what I want," the striker said. "If, in the end, I'm also the top scorer - bonus." History certainly favours Luis Fabiano. While Spain have never boasted a Golden Boot winner and Argentina's last recipient was Mario Kempes in 1978, Brazil has been home to the tournament's top scorer on five separate occasions, most recently in 2002 when Ronaldo netted eight times.
This is no typical Brazil side, however, and Luis Fabiano will need to be at his industrious and clinical best if he is to have a chance of leaving South Africa with a similar award to that which he left with last summer. The insistence of Dunga, the Brazil coach, on two defensive midfielders means much of the supply comes from either Kaka, in an advanced central midfield role, or the full-backs, Maicon and Michel Bastos.
However, unlike in qualifying, when the manager deployed Luis Fabiano as a lone striker, Dunga has this month preferred to pair him with Robinho, the quick and creative Manchester City forward. Robinho's willingness to drift out to the flanks allows Luis Fabiano space in the centre and with Kaka sitting slightly behind the front-line, the two have time in which to capitalise on their "perfect understanding".
Holland have only conceded twice so far this summer - both times from the penalty spot - but Luis Fabiano's prolific record for the national team has seen him score 28 times in 42 matches. He will be confident, given the chance, that his ruthless efficiency in front of goal will enable him to fire his side through to the final four, while doing no harm to his chances of a transfer to the San Siro.