Brazilian striker Paulinho adores Cristiano Ronaldo

With his club Flamengo stopping Vinicius Junior from travelling to India, all eyes will be on the 17-year-old Paulinho.

Paulinho after a practice session in Kochi on Tuesday.   -  Stan Rayan

He comes from the land of legends, a land that has thrown up greats like Pele, Zico, Garrincha and Ronaldo — who have mesmerised the world, but Brazilian Paulo Henrique Paulinho’s favourite footballer is not one of his own.

“Cristiano Ronaldo,” exclaimed the Brazilian striker, picking the Portugal star without blinking an eye, in a chat with Sportstar at the Maharaja’s Stadium here on Tuesday evening after the team’s first training session in Kochi.

With his club Flamengo stopping Vinicius Junior from travelling to India, all eyes will be on the 17-year-old Paulinho as the FIFA U-17 World Cup begins here on Saturday with Brazil’s opener against Spain.

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So does Paulinho see Vinicius’ absence as a big blow or as a huge opportunity to show his skills to the big clubs which will be closely following this World Cup?

“I don’t think like that, I’m working really hard to give my best for the national squad. For sure, we are going to miss Vinicius but the team is really united, so everybody will be an important player here,” said the Vasco da Gama forward who, with two goals, played a big role in Brazil’s triumph in the Under-17 South America Cup earlier this year.

“After that, who knows what will happen.”

Paulinho’s dad was a football player, “but he stopped at under-20,” said the youngster who took up the game at eight and joined Vasco at 10.

“Football for me is life, I’m working really hard to have a beautiful career and I just have to keep working hard to get there,” said the player who is on the radar of many big European clubs.

Everybody loves to see the Brazilians play football, for they play the beautiful game the way it should be played. And Brazil’s World Cup opener against Spain at the Nehru Stadium here on Saturday could probably be the championship’s greatest game.

So, which Spanish player will Paulinho be closely watching in the opener?

“Not any individual, all the Spanish players are strong, everybody knows that they play possession football and we have to think our philosophy of the game to make a great game against them and beat them,” said the striker who could partner Alan de Souza Guimaraes to rattle the Spaniards.