Pato must be given starring role for Brazil
As Brazil puffed and panted their way to their sixth draw in 11 World Cup qualifying games against Ecuador at the weekend, the sight of a precociously talented 19-year-old kicking his heels on the bench, while Ronaldinho failed to make an impact for 70 minutes, must have been hard to take for many Brazilian fans.
It took Julio Baptista just 80 seconds to break the deadlock after replacing Milan's fading star, but the decision to leave the Rossoneri's (and Brazil's) hope for future, Alexandre 'Pato' Rodrigues da Silva, on the bench for the entirety of the game was even more incredible.
This is a youngster who has netted 12 goals in his last 16 games for Milan, while Ronaldinho has failed to hit the net since November 30 - in the 3-1 loss to Palermo - and even then he managed to miss a first half penalty. While Ronaldinho has notched up game after game for Brazil, Pato has made just one substitute appearance in the 0-0 draw against Colombia and has largely been ignored by coach Dunga.
The Brazilian boss criticised the teenager last August, claiming that he still had much developing to do as a player and must learn how to ''free himself from his marker"; but on current form he cannot be overlooked any longer as Brazil look to improve on their CONMEBOL qualifying performances.
On Sunday, Ecuador were easily the better side in Quito, buoyed by their high-altitude advantage, but some young lungs were called for to make the difference for the Seleção. Yes, Brazil may have scored their first-ever World Cup goal on Ecuadorian soil (a lucky rebound off the post and goalkeeper), but the reality is the side would have been down by four or five had it not been for the form of goalkeeper Julio Cesar.
Too often, the midfield of Ronaldinho and Elano gave the ball away; and, while Robinho remains a potent attacking threat, without the involvement of the injured Kaka, Brazil's forward line cries out for the creativity of a player like Pato.
'The Duck' (a nickname which derives from his birthplace of Pato Branco or 'White Duck') is simply too good to be left out and the selection of Elano, who has failed to assert himself at club level with Manchester City this season, and Luis Fabiano, who has just six goals for Sevilla after finishing second top scorer last year, was bizarre. Meanwhile the likes of Crispin, Lucas, Jo, Afonso and Mancini have all seen more playing time in the qualifiers than the more exciting teenager.
A prolific scorer for Brazil at under-17 and under-20 level, the striker recovered from cancer aged 10 after having a tumour removed for free because his family could not afford the surgery. Since then he has blossomed and, like so many before him, sought fame and fortune away from Brazil. And succeeded.
Having moved to AC Milan for €22m from Internacional in August 2007, the 19-year-old has not wilted under expectation and his cool finishing, combined with his pace and brilliant football brain, has made him a fans' favourite at the San Siro.
He had to wait until January 2008 to feature in a competitive game for his new club because of Italian rules about non-EU players under the age of 18, but it was worth the wait as he scored four goals in his first six games to turn Milan's season around. Indeed, Pato has the potential to become better than Ronaldinho, according to Milan manager Carlo Ancelotti; but many may argue that such a prediction has already come true, which makes it all the more strange that he has not been trusted with the responsibility of leading the attack for Brazil.
The youngster represents the best hope for Brazil to get their 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign back on track, after Dunga's men slipped to fourth in the table; but the coach must recognise that he has such a talented player to call upon first. Just 28 minutes of action in the qualifiers is not enough for a player who has the ability to take the country forward and, if he is given the chance, he will prove his talent on the international stage.
An injection of youth might help Brazil's push for South Africa, but there are other attacking players still plying their trade in their homeland who may shine in the future as well.
Keirrison. Linked with a move to Barcelona in recent weeks, the 20-year-old has been on fire for Palmeiras, scoring 12 goals in 12 games. The hottest property in Brazil at the moment, the forward is partly owned by Traffic Sports Marketing and could benefit from a move to Europe. His slight frame may count against him, but his talent is beyond question and his aerial ability and pace could provide a different dimension to the Brazilian frontline.
Neymar. It could be a while before the 17-year-old gets his chance to shine on the senior stage, but Santos' revelation has been heralded as the future of Brazilian football. Compared to Robinho and, of course, Pele (who made his own international debut aged just 16); the tricky midfielder has only played a few games for his club in the top flight but has already caused a stir with his pace and skill. Still wearing braces, the youngster could be a star turn once he matures in the Brazilian league.
Dentinho. Emerging from the shadow of 18-year-old Lulinha, who has fallen from grace since grabbing the attention of Chelsea with 12 goals in seven matches at the 2007 under-17 South-American Championship, Dentinho is the new golden boy of Corinthians' side. Fast and full of traditional Brazilian flair, he has been part of the Brazilian U-20 setup and can only improve playing alongside the legendary Ronaldo for his club. Indeed, the São Paulo based outfit are sure to have a player in the squad soon - unless a big European club like Juventus snaps him up first.
Walter. He impressed at the South American under-20 championships, finishing joint top scorer, and was undoubtedly one of the stars of the tournament. The Internacional striker has had to fill the boots of Pato, who was the club's previous golden boy, but boasts the speed and power to do so. A good team player, he can drop deep to link play and also likes to make runs beyond the last defender. Strong and with a powerful shot, he could be fast-tracked into the senior side with Man Utd keeping a watchful eye.
Douglas Costa. The Gremio star has been linked with a move abroad for some time, but has yet to find the consistency that would make him a regular for his country. A midfielder who impresses in bursts, he has shown a good turn of pace along with some excellent technical skills and will need to add some physical power if he is to cement his place in international football. He has the potential to turn a game with his skill and eye for a pass and Villarreal head the queue.