Split loyalties for Flamengo favourite Petkovic
Brasilia: Flamengo favourite Dejan Petkovic is adored in his adopted home but the midfielder will be cheering for his native Serbia if they meet five-times champions Brazil in the 2010 World Cup final.
The 37-year-old from Nis, near Belgrade, first moved to Brazil in 1997 after playing for Red Star Belgrade and Real Madrid. He also played for teams in Italy, Saudi Arabia and China before joining Flamengo last year in his latest spell in Brazil.
"The Brazilians want this sixth title, so let`s cheer for Brazil to win it -- as long as they don`t play the final against Serbia. In this case, we will not be cheering for them!" laughed Petkovic.
"I am Serbian, and very proud of it, but also a bit Brazilian," Petkovic, affectionately known as `Pet`, told Reuters TV.
"For a long time I have felt a bit Brazilian. Officially I am a `carioca,` meaning I have the official title of Rio citizen, he said at Flamengo`s Gavea complex.
Petkovic believes Serbians and Brazilians are similar in the way they like to laugh, party and sing and said that was why he felt at home in Rio.
"He is a real `carioca,` he speaks like the locals from Rio, always joking in the same way we do," said a supporter watching the practice session.
Petkovic`s career moved in the opposite direction to most Brazilians. He went from Real Madrid to the South American country, which is a well-trodden path in reverse for Brazil`s best youngsters.
Younger members of the side are full of praise for the maestro who orchestrated Flamengo`s revival as one of country`s strongest teams and helped steer them to the 2009 Brazilian championship.
"He is a key player in the group because of his experience and intelligence. Just being who he is important for the group," said midfielder Fernando.
The Serbian has completely integrated into Brazil`s football culture, playing like a local.
"Yugoslav players have always been called the Brazilians of Europe, that`s what the national team was nicknamed," said Petkovic who played seven times for Yugoslavia but has long retired from international football.
"We have the talent, and our technique-driven football was always under the spotlight in the Balkans."
Former Yugoslav republic Serbia will make their first appearance at the World Cup in South Africa as an independent nation having played in the 2006 tournament with Montenegro.
"To have qualified for the World Cup was very good for our country. At least we finished first in our group, ahead of France," Petkovic said.
"We have a new coach Radomir Antic, who is training our country for the first time. With his experience he has created a positive atmosphere and has brought back the confidence of the people in us."
Serbia and Montenegro lost all three of their group games in Germany four years ago but with players such as Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic, captain Dejan Stankovic and Marko Pantelic and Milan Jovanovic up front, Petkovic is optimistic the national team will enjoy a better showing this time round.
"We have a hard group against the traditionally awkward Germans, we have not played many matches against them," he said.
"But I think we can perform well against Ghana, who are strong representatives from Africa. And with regards to Australia, I think we are better than them.”
Petkovic, who cited Brazilian striker Zico and French playmaker Michel Platini as his heroes, has no doubt who the tournament favourites are.
"Brazil are one of the favourites, Spain are also one of the favourites," Petkovic said while autographing a shirt.
"England deserve respect and Italy, despite playing very badly at the moment, they need to be respected, they are the defending champions. And if Argentina sort out their defence, they could also create problems."
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