When the 15-year-old Eduardo da Silva left his home town of Rio de Janeiro to join NK Dinamo Zagreb in 1998, he could not have imagined the role he was to play in Croatian football over the next decade. In fact he is now something of a national icon.
Eduardo make his senior debut at Dinamo in 2001/02, and took Croatian citizenship. By 2003/04 the striker was scoring regularly for his club and earned a call-up to play for his adopted nation in the 2004 UEFA European Under-21 Championship. That was an annus mirabilis for the forward as he was voted the Croatian league's player of the year and made his senior international debut. And although he missed out on selection for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, it is in no small way due to Eduardo that Croatia lead a UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifying group containing Russia and England.
The 24-year-old has struck five times in the competition while continuing to star on the domestic stage - his 34 league goals in 32 games is a Croatian record and he ended the season with the first ever hat-trick in a Dinamo showdown with arch-rivals HNK Hajduk Split. Neither Estonia nor Russia will fancy containing him this week and Eduardo is relishing the challenge. "I expect, as we all do, that we will get six points," he told uefa.com. "Of course, if I play I will give my all and try to score.
"If we manage to win those games, it will be much easier to play against England at Wembley [in the last qualifier in November]. We have showed great form and achieved excellent results in this group, but it's not over yet. It will be a tough match in England and we need these six points to be relaxed and to play without pressure.
Our primary goal is to reach [UEFA] EURO 2008™ as quickly as possible and we would be very close if we win in the next two matches."
Expectations are high, but Eduardo is taking nothing for granted. "I am sure it will be difficult," he said. "Russia have excellent players, a quality team and top coach. But, I must be honest and say I think it will be more difficult to play against Estonia in Tallinn than against Russia in Zagreb. In the past Croatia have almost always had difficult matches against Estonia but everyone thinks we ought to win that match. People have already added on those three points against Estonia."
His breakthrough as a regular for the national team has coincided with the arrival of Slaven Bilić as coach. Still only 38, the former Croatia defender has given youth a chance in the shape of Luka Modrić, Vedran Ćorluka and of course Eduardo. "We have a brilliant coach," Eduardo said. "I think his bravery is the crucial factor in our success. When he took over, he called up many of us young players. Everyone said, 'You will not make it with all those youngsters', but he did it and we are now among the best players. It was his best move. Very brave and very successful."
That last word also sums up Eduardo's season, and unsurprisingly he is now the reported target of some of Europe's biggest clubs. "I have been playing very well for the last three years," he said. "I get many rewards and individual trophies and people have been telling me for a while now that it's time to leave Dinamo Zagreb. Of course, it's not just down to me, but I always want to make progress, I would like to play at a big club, like every other player wants to. I recently signed a new ten-year contract and I am relaxed. I think I have reached the maximum level possible in the Croatian first division.
"I would really like to stay at Dinamo but I score all the time and in that situation it's hard to avoid bids from other clubs. I think about Europe very often, about big clubs, but sometimes I am sad when I score a goal for Dinamo, because with every new goal I move a little bit further from Zagreb." As for his ideal destination, he is emphatic. "Sevilla [FC] are my favourite club! They are great club and very soon they will be big like Real Madrid [CF] and [FC] Barcelona. If I got an offer from them, it would be my priority no matter what other club is bidding for me."
Once the EURO qualifiers are over, Eduardo will return to Brazil for ten days' rest before a season that could project him firmly into the football spotlight and end with a little tournament in Austria and Switzerland. "I am not tired, but I am happy to spend some time with my family and I am looking to new challenges next season," Eduardo concluded.
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