If a goalkeeper is called Higuita you have to sit up and take notice – and that certainly goes for Kairat Almaty's Brazilian custodian.
That Leonardo De Melo Vieira Leite is more commonly known as a namesake of René Higuita is no coincidence. A goalkeeper since he was five, he told UEFA.com: "When I was little I used to have long hair and a goalkeeper hardly played outside their area back then but I was often doing that, feinting, showing off ... So everyone was saying, 'Look at that goalie. He is a fool just like Higuita. Higuita come here!' That was how I became Higuita. I also tried the Scorpion Kick when I played football but only in training."
His attacking prowess was shown in Kairat's 5-4 UEFA Futsal Cup semi-final defeat of holders FC Barcelona in Tbilisi on Friday. Higuita was virtually a fifth outfield player, having five shots and hitting the woodwork twice, once an effort from halfway that almost knocked the goal off its moorings.
He was named Western Union man of the match despite the fact team-mate Fumasa got a hat-trick, Barcelona admitting they were unsettled by Higuita's attacking play. "The most important thing was that I saw the blood in the eyes of our team, it was pure desire," Higuita told UEFA.com. Now the Rio de Janeiro-born 26-year-old hopes to experience something even better after Sunday's final with MFK Dinamo in Tbilisi.
Declaring himself "100% ready" despite an ice pack strapped to his knee on Saturday, he identified the Russian champions' strengths. "Dinamo are very good when playing through their pivot Cirilo," Higuita said. "Everyone trusts him, gives him the ball. Not as much as they used to because now they also have Dieguinho who fulfils the same function. Otherwise Dinamo are just like Barcelona – all the lads play for national teams, all have their strengths. We have to be very cautious."
A football scholar with CR Vasco da Gama, CR Flamengo and Fluminense FC before switching codes aged 18 due to his height, he represented Cabo Frio Futsal, Kairat's Kazakh rivals Tulpar Karagandy and Portuguese club CF Os Belenenses. Joining the Almaty side in 2011, Higuita had his first experience of the UEFA Futsal Cup last season, denied a finals spot by Dinamo with a last-gasp elite round Cirilo equaliser in Moscow. That encounter gave him respect for the Russian champions' experienced coach Faustino Pérez.
"He is a good coach, experienced, a really commanding figure," Higuita said. "Dinamo are very good at the moment. Not just any man can coach such a team and he has done so for three years already. It shows he is a top class professional."
Kairat's coach, Higuita's fellow Brazilian Cacau, may not have Pérez's experience but showed a shrewd tactical sense in how he deployed his goalkeeper up the pitch against Barcelona. So will Higuita aid the attack again on Sunday?
"We should not forget about caution and we have to use our strengths wisely," he said. "If we need we will play five against four, if we don't – we won't. It is all about what the coach decides. We just do what Cacau tells us to. If he decides that we should sit back and do nothing but defend – we will sit back and defend."
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