RIO DE JANEIRO — Watch Eduardo da Silva as the bands play the Brazilian and Croatian national anthems before the opening match of the World Cup on Thursday in Sao Paulo.
Silva will be singing both. And he has a good reason. He was born in a rough slum outside Rio de Janeiro, but from there took a long journey that landed him in Croatia’s national team and a showdown against his country of birth in the World Cup.
It’s been a great trip – and a soft landing.
Silva has scored 29 international goals for Croatia. Only the country’s most famous player Davor Suker, who led the country to third place in the 1998 World Cup, has scored more.
Needless to say, there is interest back home in Vila Kennedy where Silva grew up.
“Here in the family everyone is rooting for Eduardo de Silva,” his mother, Joelma da Silva said. “But after the first game, everyone will cheer for Brazil.”
Everyone knows it may be a difficult match for Croatia, which also faces Mexico and Cameroon in Group A. Five-time champion Brazil is the overwhelming favorite to reach the knockout stage with the other three battling for second place and a spot in the last 16.
“I’m rooting for him,” his mother said. “I understand that it is very important for him. But I’m also rooting for Brazil. Eduardo versus Brazil.”
She said her son’s youth was easy to describe.
“He played lots of football as a kid,” she said. “He went from school to the football field. That’s how he spent those years.”
Silva joined the youth side of Croatian club Dinamo Zagreb in 1999 after he was spotted playing in a local Rio slum.
He took Croatian nationality in 2002, played his first match for the senior team against Ireland in 2004, and scored his first official goal in 2006 in a 4-0 win over Hong Kong in the Carlsberg Cup.
His brother Bruno knows the match next week could be bittersweet – for everyone.
“It is the pinnacle to play for the national team of your country,” he said. “Unfortunately, this pinnacle will not be for Brazil but for another country. But that does not take away the achievement.
“He is Croatian for work. But in his heart he is Brazilian.”