NAIROBI, Kenya, May 27 – Indefatigable Brazilian retired defender Juliano Belletti has rekindled sweet memories of his magic strike that ended Arsenal’s dream chance for a maiden UEFA Champions League trophy in France.
The venue for the memorable final was Stade de France in Saint-Denis, Paris on Wednesday 17 May 2006.
On this auspicious occasion, Barcelona were appearing in their fifth final, while Arsenal were on their first and indeed, a first by a club from London.
Belletti’s solitary strike for Barcelona and his only goal from six seasons in the Champions League, was incidentally the winner in that terrific final.
Being a Brazilian right back, Belletti, 45, developed a penchant for making his team’s defense a “safe haven”, but he savored the opportunity for sporadic attacks.
On his very first visit to Kenya where he waltzed into town with the magnificent FIFA World Trophy, Belletti commiserated with local Arsenal fans.
But the Brazilian legend predicted a Gunners Champion League victory in the foreseeable future.
“That final in Paris was out of this world. It’s never far from my thoughts. I mean, a great moment for my career against a team with great players like Cesc Fabregas, Sol Campbell, Gilberto Silva and Thierry Henry,” Belletti told Capital Sport.
“We played against a great team, that was Arsenal’s chance to win it. I broke the hearts of millions of Arsenal fans on my memorable day in Paris, but for sure, I have this feeling that Arsenal will one day deliver this coveted Champions League trophy in the near future.”
–Brazil’s long wait–
On the same breath, Belletti, who was in the Brazil squad that last won the World Cup in 2002, also predicted another “Samba” FIFA World Cup scalp given the level of in-depth and caliber of players in the current Brazil team.
“It’s not an easy thing to win the FIFA World Cup. The last time for Brazil was in 2002.” This year is a special year, I think, because we have the same Manager from the last World Cup and we have (Vinícius José Paixão de Oliveira) Júnior who has played very well at Real Madrid, we have Neymar Jr who when on song is complicated to the opposition. We can be better than last World Cup-but then again, it’s a wait and see situation.”
Brazil headline Group G along with Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon.
Asked about African chances at the World Cup, Belletti went on: “African teams get better year by year – World Cup by World Cup. They just need to believe that winning the FIFA World Cup is a possibility, first. And then of course the World Cup is a difficult competition.”
“But African teams possess a lot of quality, creativity, competitiveness, teamwork as well-so yes, it can be possible. African teams need to work hard for this achievement to come to fruition.”
Africa is represented by Nations Cup holders Senegal, Ghana, who missed the 2010 World Cup by a whisker, Cameroon, Tunisia and Morocco.
On his Kenya tour, Belletti said in finality: “First of all, I’m very happy to be here in Kenya. Its’ my first time with the FIFA World Cup. And when I see you people enjoy and take pictures, I mean the smiles on your faces- I’m happy with this.”
Belletti believes the national football team Harambee Stars has what it takes to one day qualify for the FIFA World Cup.
“Everybody to believe it is possible, have a good organization, good discipline and hard work. What happened with me I started as a goalkeeper when I was 15 years, so with teamwork everything is possible, football is about joy and inspiration,” Belletti told Capital Sport.
Belletti (born 20 June 1976) began his career in the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A with Cruzeiro, São Paulo and Atlético Mineiro, being awarded the Silver Ball by Placar for his performances on loan at the last of those clubs during the 1999 season.
From 2002 to 2010 he played in Europe with Villarreal, Barcelona and Chelsea, winning numerous honors; his only goal for Barcelona won them the UEFA Champions League in 2006.
He then returned to Brazil, winning the national league with Fluminense in 2010. He earned 23 caps for Brazil from 2001 to 2005, scoring once.
He was part of Brazil’s teams that won the 2002 FIFA World Cup and competed at the 2001 Copa América and 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup.