Partizan striker Cleo stakes claim for Serbia call-up
Belgrade:Partizan Belgrade`s Brazilian-born striker Cleo staked a claim for a place in the Serbia squad with an outstanding performance in their 3-1 Champions League defeat by Arsenal.
Cleo, who was granted Serbian citizenship last week, was a constant threat with darting runs through the middle.
He was among the Partizan players singled out by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger after the pulsating Group H clash in the Serbian capital on Tuesday.
"I thought that four Partizan players, but Cleo and the goalkeeper (Vladimir Stojkovic) in particular," played very well," Wenger said after his team made it two wins out of two.
"Partizan are a passionate team and they gave us the game we expected," he added.
Cleo steered Partizan to the Champions League group stage with eight goals in six qualifiers and scored his first in the competition proper when he calmly netted a first-half penalty.
Although Partizan`s midfield carved out few openings for the hitman, he made good use of the ball in possession. The one sour note was that he missed a second spot kick late in the game.
Partizan coach Aleksandar Stanojevic said before the match that Cleo deserved to play for Serbia but national team manager Vladimir Petrovic is reluctant to give him an immediate shot.
"We will monitor his performances now that he has become a Serbian citizen but I will not call him up for the upcoming (Euro 2012) qualifiers against Estonia and Italy," Petrovic, who took over from Radomir Antic earlier this month, said last week.
Former Yugoslavia midfielder Petrovic, who was at Arsenal in the 1982-83 season, felt Cleo needed more time before sampling international football but he had no hesitation in recalling Stojkovic, who was dropped after Serbia`s early World Cup exit.
Stojkovic has earned a second chance with Serbia after several excellent performances for Partizan since he joined them on loan from Sporting Lisbon in August.
He saved one chance after another against Arsenal, including an Andrei Arshavin penalty, but conceded that he was partly at fault for the second goal when striker Marouane Chamakh headed his own rebound off the bar into the Partizan net.
"It feels like the worst day in my life because of the way I let in the second goal so it kind of overshadows all the good saves I made," Stojkovic said.
"I want to dedicate the penalty save to our defender Marko Jovanovic, who left the pitch in tears after he was sent off."
Stojkovic should help bolster Serbia`s defensive line and, with the national team`s first-choice strikers out of form, Cleo could become the perfect remedy for their lack of firepower.
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