It was perhaps the most decisive moment of the World Cup. Brazil had identified the quarter-final against England as the gateway to glory, but found themselves a goal down and struggling to break down a deep defence.
New boy Kleberson was not having an easy time playing his way into the competition. A poor performance against Malaysia on the eve of the tournament had cost him a first-team place.
Now he was back after coming off the bench against Belgium to set up a goal. But a bad backpass had nearly given a goal away. He needed to prove to himselfthat he was a World Cup midfielder.
Kleberson’s hour of affirmation coincided with the moment Brazil began to be sure the trophy would be theirs. He snapped into a tackle, Paul Scholes was beaten and the ball ran away to Ronaldinho to draw the defence and set up Rivaldo’s equaliser. From then on there was no looking back for Brazil – or Kleberson.
The midfielder had been an international for less than five months. “The first time I met up with the group I was very nervous,” he said. “Then I calmed myself down, kept thinking positive and trusted that everything would turn out OK.”
So it proved. Kleberson gave one of the most assured Brazil debuts in years in the January friendly against Bolivia, and during the finals his dynamism plugged the defensive gaps that had been so evident earlier in the competition. What’s more, his hard running and crisp passing also provided attacking options.
The Final against Germany was Ronaldo’s night. But aside from ‘The Phenomenon’ there was no better player than Kleberson. Midfielders in Brazil are expected to specialise either in defence or attack, to be either Mauro Silva or Gerson. But Kleberson’s versatility makes him hard to categorise. He is also one of the few genuinely two-footed players the country has produced.
The adjective usually used to describe him is ‘modern’ – and he has made it very clear that his time has come. As a child in the Parana countryside he preferred picking cotton with his mother to learning how to make shoes with his father. Now he has picked upsome serious silverware – first the Brazilian championship, with Atletico Paranaense, and now the World Cup.
“It’s been a spectacular few months,” he says. “Now I have to keep the good times coming, keep maturing and work on my finishing.”
In the World Cup Final he rattled the German bar. In four years’ time the high-achieving, high-energy midfielder will be aiming a fraction lower.
Club Atletico Paranaense
Born June 19, 1979, in Urai, Parana
International debut January 2002, v Bolivia
International caps 11 (2 goals)
Honours World Cup 2002; Brazilian championship 2001; Parana championship 2000, 2001