ALSO ON SLAM!
Sunday, June 11, 2000
Brazilian player struts stuff for Canada
WINNIPEG -- When Tony Menezes needs a break from the gruelling Brazilian soccer season, he doesn't head for the beaches of Rio de Janeiro.
Instead, the 25-year-old Mississauga native straps on a pair of skates and heads down to an ice rink in a large shopping mall near his home in Rio.
"It helps me relax," said Menezes, a rugged central defender who has added some much-needed stability to the Canadian men's soccer team. "I go with a bunch of my Brazilian friends. They love it. For me, it's just a hobby away from soccer."
Menezes moved with his family to Brazil when he was 10 years old. That's when he started taking his soccer seriously and began his quick ascent through the Brazilian pro ranks.
Menezes plays his club soccer for Botafogo Rio. While his team did not compete for the league title this past season, his club is through to the semi-finals of the Brazil Cup, which is similar to the FA Cup in England.
But for the decade he lived in Canada, Menezes' first love was hockey. He won a house-league championship with Cawthra Park when he was nine years old and led the league in scoring that season as a forward.
"I still remember most of the goals I scored," Menezes said. "I still try to follow the game as much as I can. I have a lot of cousins in Mississauga and Toronto who keep me up to date."
How the Canadian soccer team was able to pry Menezes away from Brazil has widely been viewed as a steal.
Menezes was being seriously considered for the Brazilian national program when he was 17. But the first division club he played for at the time wasn't playing well, so national team scouts often overlooked him.
"There's so many good players in Brazil that you have to play for a good club to be noticed all the time," Menezes said. "I could have played for Canada when I was 17 or 18, but my name was being mentioned for Brazil's national program, so I decided not to go to Canada."
When Menezes was asked three years ago by interim Canadian coach Bruce Twamley -- current national team coach Holger Osieck had not yet been hired -- if he would consider playing for his native country, Menezes jumped at the chance.
"I thought I should at least give Canada a try," Menezes said. "Looking back now, I have no regrets about my decision. The team has done so many great things recently that I'm happy to be part of it."