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Alex fuels Fenerbahçe fire

Published: Tuesday 18 October 2005, 8.00CET
The brilliance of Brazilian playmaker Alex has Fenerbahçe SK believing that a place in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League is theirs for the taking.
by Türker Tozar
from Trabzon
Published: Tuesday 18 October 2005, 8.00CET

Alex fuels Fenerbahçe fire

The brilliance of Brazilian playmaker Alex has Fenerbahçe SK believing that a place in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League is theirs for the taking.

Alex’s ability has never been in question. The Brazilian’s exhilarating performance for Fenerbahçe SK in the 3-0 victory against PSV Eindhoven two weeks ago was further proof of what an exciting talent he is. What had been open to debate was the playmaker’s big-match temperament. After his role in the rout of the Dutch champions, however, doubts over Alex’s ability to stamp his mark on the big occasion are quickly diminishing.

Breathtaking
Alex scored twice against PSV and set up the third. He opened the scoring from the penalty spot, happy to shoulder responsibility for his side. Midway into the second half he added the second, starting and finishing a move of breathtaking pace and precision. He collected the ball on the halfway line with a cushioned header then, with his second touch, hooked a left-footed pass without the ball touching the ground that sent Nicolas Anelka rushing clear of the PSV defence.

Superb back-heel
The French striker cut into the box but delayed his cross until Alex, darting forward from halfway, caught up with the play. Anelka then crossed for the Brazilian to score with a diving header. The UEFA Champions League is only two rounds old, but compatriots Adriano, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo will be hard pressed to better that goal this season. They would have been impressed too with Alex’s superb back-heel that cut three PSV players out of the play to allow Stephen Appiah to score Fenerbahçe’s third.

Eye for goal
Alex has continued his excellent form from last season when, from midfield, his staggering tally of 24 goals in 31 league games led Fenerbahçe to their second consecutive title. He has already scored six times in nine league games this season. The difference is, this time he is also producing his best form in the UEFA Champions League. When Alex arrived at Fenerbahçe last summer from Brazilian side Cruzeiro his reputation as a skilful playmaker preceded him, but so too did the suggestion that he was prone to disappear in important games. Last season proved that right on both counts. While Alex shone in Turkey's Super League, he was anonymous in the Champions League as Fenerbahçe crashed out at the group stage.

'Brilliant'
It was another year of frustration for the 16-times Turkish champions who are desperate to transfer their domestic success into Europe. This season they have another chance and this time Alex appears ready to ensure they take it. He scored a penalty in the 3-1 defeat by AC Milan on Matchday 1, then thrilled the home support against PSV. "Alex was brilliant," coach Christoph Daum said. "He played a part in all three of our goals. Alex is an exceptional player. People come to the stadium just to watch him."

European return
Alex is deadly from set-pieces, his finishing superb and his technique second to none. He enjoys the responsibility given to him by Daum. But surprisingly, for such an exciting player, last season was the 28-year-old’s first in Europe. Alex had spent his entire career almost exclusively in his native Brazil playing for the country’s biggest sides after first breaking into professional football with Coritiba FC in 1996.

'Thanks to God'
Spells at Palmeiras CS, CR Flamengo and Cruzeiro were to follow but his only taste of European football came with Parma FC in 2000/01. It was a disaster. Alex left without playing a match, having failed to conform to then coach Cesare Prandelli’s playing style. "Thanks to God I saved my past and my future by moving away from Parma," Alex confessed on his return to Brazil.

'Really happy'
That future is looking bright. Alex has seized his second chance in Europe, and his fine form has not gone unnoticed. He is an integral part of Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira's FIFA World Cup plans – he featured in both qualifying games against Bolivia and Ecuador last week – and is attracting attention from some of the UEFA Champions League's biggest names. "I am really happy in Istanbul at Fenerbahçe," Alex said when reporters quizzed him recently about reported interest from Real Madrid CF. "I like their playing style and I promised president Aziz Yıldırım to stay at the club and help them win the league title in their centenary year in 2007."

Skill and guile
Alex, of course, is not the only reason behind Fenerbahçe’s great start. Fenerbahçe have further strengthened their squad and are benefiting from the experience of last year's UEFA Champions League campaign. But if they are to advance beyond the group stage for the first time a lot will depend on Alex’s skill and guile, especially when it counts the most such as on Wednesday at home to FC Schalke 04. If Alex can continue to deliver on his promise, a place in the last 16 is Fenerbahçe’s for the taking.

Last updated: 18/10/05 12.55CET

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