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Sazali Abdul Aziz
Wednesday, Oct 15, 2014

Sports

S'pore goes ga-ga over Neymar & Kaka

The New Paper | Sazali Abdul Aziz | Wednesday, Oct 15, 2014

Kaka signing autograph for fans. About 200 fans welcome the Brazilian stars.

It takes a special kind of attraction to get people out of their beds and head for Changi Airport early on a Sunday morning.

The Brazil national football team have that kind of effect.

Barely 10 hours after they saw off fierce rivals Argentina 2-0 in a "Superclasico" international friendly at the Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing, the Selecao arrived on Singapore soil at around 8am yesterday.

The record five-time world champions play Japan in another friendly, at the 55,000-capacity National Stadium at the Singapore Sports Hub, tomorrow night.

The match, which pits the biggest name in football against Asia's reigning champions, is a sellout.

When The New Paper arrived at the airport yesterday half an hour before the plane carrying Dunga's men was estimated to land, a group of over 100 fans had already lined up along the cordoned-off area at the arrival hall.

That group slowly swelled and, by the time someone caught the first glimpse of the team - announcing his sighting by shouting "Oscar! Oscar!" as the Chelsea playmaker walked towards the luggage belts - the number had doubled.

Oscar was among the first to emerge into the arrival hall, and headed straight for the waiting team bus. His teammates, including Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho, Paris St Germain's David Luiz and Chelsea midfielder Willian, marched behind him in a single file, acknowledging the supporters but hardly stopping to sign autographs or oblige requests for photos.

For all their star power, there was no question who the two most popular Brazilians in Terminal 2 were - former Real Madrid and AC Milan man Kaka and Barcelona ace Neymar.

Generous Kaka, 32, tried his best to sign as many autographs as he could and didn't look fazed by the amount of attention he was getting, all smiles as he went along.

BARCA'S ACE

Neymar, meanwhile, was the only one to don shades, and it was probably a smart move considering the number of times he faced a camera flash.

Mariana Melo, a physical education teacher at an international school here, was one of the few Brazilians who welcomed their countrymen to the Lion City.

She moved to work in Singapore three months ago, and said: "I was still living in Brazil when I heard they were playing Japan in Singapore, so I was very excited because I knew I would get the chance to watch them in action.

"Today, I got a video and that's good enough for me. In Brazil, I would never get to do this.

"There are millions of people who would swamp the team."

She added that, back in her native Sao Paulo, she used to teach at the school Kaka's wife Caroline Celico attended, St Paul's School. Melo was at the airport with two of her students, 10-year-old Shojo and his brother Eigo, nine.

Proudly showing off his sketchbook with Kaka's signature scribbled on it, Shojo said: "I was hoping I would get Kaka's autograph, but I was calling out to everyone.

"In the end, I got only one, but it was the one I wanted. I'm really happy, but the video I took of the team was terrible."

A Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) official, who was at the airport ahead of the team's arrival, said the players were going to have only light training at the hotel gym, in light of their exertions in Beijing.

The samba stars were even afforded some R&R time by coach Dunga, despite his reputation for being a strict disciplinarian.

A fan put up a selfie taken with Coutinho at Marina Bay Sands on Twitter.

Kaka later posted a photo of former Manchester City forward Robinho chilling at a cafe on his Facebook page.

But, Neymar and Co might just opt for an early night tonight.

After all, for all the smiles and thumbs up, they must be drained after their trip from Europe to China, and then on to Singapore.

Golden Boy Neymar, 22, looked as if he needed some shut eye.

After he boarded the team bus at the airport, he slinked towards the back, took his place at a window seat, and discarded his shades while putting on a pair of earphones.

As the bus moved off, the 22-year-old smiled and waved to his adoring supporters. And then came a big yawn.

Maybe there will be time for a short siesta before this afternoon's training session at the National Stadium.

msazali@sph.com.sg

In love with Luiz

Just as the Brazil team boarded their bus at Changi Airport yesterday morning, a shrill cry pierced through the air at Terminal 2.

It was not one of distress, but rather, delight.

"He signed my ball!" shrieked Ren Hizon.

The 14-year-old from the Philippines was giddy.

Her beloved David Luiz had just scrawled his name on a football she had presented him.

When asked why the Paris St Germain defender was such an object of affection, Ren gushed: "He's just my life. He's really nice, really religious, I could go on and on.

"I gave him my letter and, in it, I wrote the reasons why I love him."

Her dad, who had accompanied her to the airport, chipped in: "She wrote it in Portuguese."

Ren proudly said that she had started learning the language because of Luiz.

Luiz, the world's most expensive defender after moving to the French giants from Chelsea for £50 million ($103m) this year, was one of Brazil's most prominent players at the Selecao's ill-fated World Cup campaign in June.

He combined erratic performances with eye-catching goals, and made a heartbreaking apology on Brazilian television after the team's stunning 7-1 thrashing at the hands of eventual winners Germany in an infamous semi-final.

Luiz looked in much chirpier mood yesterday, giving a thumbs up to the approximately 250 supporters who had gathered at the airport to welcome the team, wearing a snood to keep his trademark wild hair in check.

Even if he did not realise it then, he had already made Ren's day.


This article was first published on Oct 13, 2014.
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