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FK Partizan's European ambitions may be over for another season but after a week that brought the arrival of his nephew and a winning goal in the Belgrade derby against former club FK Crvena Zvezda, Cléo is determined to bow out of the UEFA Europa League on a high.
Pride at stake
"We are playing for pride," said the Brazilian striker ahead of Thursday's trip to Toulouse FC in Group J. "We lost our first four matches and have no hope of progressing to the next stage. But on the wings of our derby success we want to pick up points and represent ourselves in the best way, first against Toulouse in France and then, just before the winter break, at home to UEFA Cup holders FC Shakhtar Donetsk. Our supporters deserve cause for new celebration."
If his mission is to put smiles on Crno-beli fans' faces, then Cléo is already delivering. Frowns were dominating on Saturday when, being held 1-1 with 40 minutes remaining, Partizan were reduced to ten men against a Crvena Zvezda side on a nine-match winning run. Cléo had other ideas and just after the hour he stung the hosts on the counterattack. "We were two on two. One defender was on Lamine Diarra and I decided to go it alone," said the 24-year-old. "A shot, a goal and a feeling like never before –
I felt a hot wind blowing in my soul. I was delirious, just running to the South Tribune to share the moment with the fans."
It was a painful sight for Crvena Zvezda, whom Cléo swapped for their great rivals during the summer, as Partizan cut their lead at the Superliga summit to a point. "After elimination from the Champions League in qualifying, morale was very low," he reflected, "but over the past month our form has improved and we are getting better. Crvena Zvezda still have a slight advantage but in the last two rounds [before the winter break] we will try to take six points – maybe it will be enough for top spot."
Built for stamina
The title of autumn champions does not carry any weight in terms of silverware, but a look at the history books amplifies its importance. Partizan have won the championship 21 times – including last term – and were top at halfway on each occasion; an important head start given Crvena Zvezda's tradition of strong finishes. "Records are made to be broken," according to Cléo, a conviction he hopes to underpin by helping Partizan get off the mark in the UEFA Europa League away to injury-hit Toulouse.
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