Menu

Brazil's Grafite surprised to be at World Cup

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Not many people expected Brazil striker Grafite to be at the World Cup — not even himself.

He had no idea it would happen when he played in an amateur league in exchange for diapers and food for his newborn baby girl. He had no idea it would happen when he hopped from door to door on the streets of a small Brazilian city selling trash bags as a 21-year-old.

Actually, he had no idea it would happen even on the day coach Dunga announced the 23 Brazilian players headed to South Africa.

Edinaldo Batista Libanio, known as Grafite, was a late addition to Brazil's World Cup squad, making the team after playing only a few minutes under Dunga's command.

"Three months ago I had no hopes of playing at the World Cup," Grafite said. "I knew Dunga had closed his group of players and my chances were minimal."

One of the least-known players on this Brazilian squad already missing many stars, Grafite got his shot after usual starter Luis Fabiano was cut from a friendly against Ireland in March. Grafite was added to the team and made the most of it, playing well after and impressing Dunga in Brazil's 2-0 victory in London, the team's final match before the World Cup squad was revealed.

"I still thought I was a long shot to make the team," he said.

Grafite was so nervous the day the coach summoned the Brazilian squad that he couldn't watch the announcement.

"I was in my house and just went to the garden with my dog to wait there," the 31-year-old Wolfsburg striker said. "My family and all my friends were in the living room watching the TV. From time to time I would just look at them from the garden to see what was going on. If they kept quiet I knew it would be bad news. All of a sudden they started yelling and celebrating. My daughter ran to me and we hugged and started crying."

Like most Brazilian players, Grafite comes from a poor family and had to go through many personal difficulties when he was younger. He couldn't stop working to play soccer; he simply was trying to provide for his family.

"When I heard I was summoned to the World Cup I started getting flashes of my early days," he said. "Of when I was in Campo Limpo Paulista playing for diapers and groceries for my daughter, Ana Carolina, who had just been born. I had to go through a lot, nothing was easy."

Unlike most Brazilian players, it took a long time until Grafite was able to make it as a professional.

"I started late, I was selling trash bags until I was 21 years old," he said. "But thankfully my career progressed after that. It wasn't easy to get to where I am now."

Grafite finally was invited to play for the small Matonense club in the interior of Sao Paulo in 1999, and a couple of years later he was signed by traditional Brazilian club Gremio. His career skyrocketed with Sao Paulo, the club he helped win the Copa Libertadores and FIFA's club world championship in 2005. Grafite transferred to Le Mans in France a year later, and in 2007 joined current club Wolfsburg.

It was with German club that Grafite scored what he calls his greatest goal last year, dribbling past several defenders before finding the net with a backheel shot. Fans honored him later with a plaque for what they said was the team's greatest goal.

Grafite also helped Woflsburg win its first Bundesliga title in 2009, scoring a league-leading 28 goals in 25 matches.

The tall Brazilian striker made international headlines in 2005 when he accused a player from an Argentine club of racism in a Copa Libertadores match. Estudiantes' Leandro Desabato was detained after the match and taken to a police station for interrogation before being released. Racism is a crime in Brazil.

Grafite had been called up for the national team only once, for a friendly against Guatemala in 2005, in Romario's farewell from soccer. Grafite substituted Romario in that match and scored a goal.

He felt he was out of Dunga's plans after being left aside by the coach despite his best season in Germany last year. But his performance in the friendly against Ireland made the difference.

"Some players need only five minutes to show they belong in the national team," Dunga said the day he summoned Grafite to replace the much more experienced Adriano.

Grafite said he didn't fully grasp that he made the World Cup team until he landed in South Africa and had the first practice with the rest of the squad.

The team's fourth striker after Robinho, Luis Fabiano and Nilmar, Grafite knows he might not even play at the World Cup. He doesn't care, feeling he's already victorious just by being in South Africa.

"My trajectory hasn't been easy, like that of most players," he said. "This is a dream. When I got called up for the World Cup, my wife just said, 'You deserve what is happening to you, it's what you fought for.'"