With his fledgling career beginning to take off at SL Benfica, Spanish Under-20 international forward Rodrigo has described his full UEFA Champions League debut as the "realisation of a dream".
He may still be stood on the threshold of the Benfica team but Rodrigo has already fulfilled a lifetime ambition. The 20-year-old, recruited on a five-year deal from Real Madrid CF in August 2010, made only his second start for the Portuguese Liga club in their 2-0 win at FC Basel 1893 in UEFA Champions League Group C on matchday three.
"It was marvellous for me because it was the realisation of a dream," he told UEFA.com. "Every footballer dreams of playing in the Champions League so I'm really happy. I had already played against Oţelul Galaţi in Romania but I was delighted to make my full debut in the competition against Basel and pleased we won.
"There is nothing like it, the name says it all: the Champions League, where football's elite and all the best clubs in Europe play, so it is really beautiful to play in this competition. To be on the pitch and listen to the anthem is something you experience at every match and every stadium – it is every footballer's dream to play in the Champions League. I'm very happy to have lived this dream."
Rodrigo, who scored his first two Liga goals in Saturday's 2-1 victory over SC Olhanense having earlier registered in a Portuguese Cup tie at Portimonense SC, has clearly benefited from his education at the Real Madrid CF academy – rubbing shoulders and training with some of the world's top players. "Real Madrid and Barcelona have the best academies in Spain so it was very important for me to grow up there," explained the son of former CR Flamengo defender Adalberto Machado.
"It was a massive thing to be able to train with players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká and Gonzalo Higuaín. Those players help you develop a great deal as a player and I also grew up a lot as a person. I learnt how to cope with the pressure of playing for a big club."
After he had honed his craft with the Merengues, another big club came calling. The 2010 UEFA European Under-19 Championship in France was the stage for the Brazilian-born teenager to catch the eye, Rodrigo scoring in the final as Spain lost 2-1 to the hosts. His exploits suitably impressed Benfica, who, after signing the striker, promptly loaned him to English Premier League side Bolton Wanderers FC for the season.
"Benfica took a big gamble on me because when they bought me I hadn't played top-flight football anywhere, so I can only thank them for paying a lot of money for me. I'd like to thank Bolton too, where I was on loan," said a player now aiming to make his fourth competitive start for Jorge Jesus's Group C leaders against Basel in Lisbon on Wednesday.
"Thankfully this year I have become part of this Benfica project and things have gone really well, in the league and in the Champions League, so I just hope I can help Benfica become an even bigger club than they already are."
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