CARSON, Calif. – When LA Galaxy midfielder Juninho watches Brazil take the field against Germany in their World Cup semifinal in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday, the 25-year-old will not only be supporting his home nation, but also an old friend.
During his youth career in the Sao Paulo academy, Juninho befriended current Brazilian international Oscar when both were in the formative ages of their career.
“When I grew up in Sao Paulo, we played for the same team when I was 17. He is a very good player and a very good guy,” Juninho told LAGalaxy.com about his time playing alongside the Chelsea midfielder. “I played right midfield while he played number ten role, but we were just kids then.”
This World Cup, Oscar has been a focal point of the Brazilians' run to the semifinals by scoring one goal and two assists in five appearances for the Selecao. But before he was considered one of the world’s best midfielders, he was a youngster at Sao Paulo alongside the Galaxy star.
Neither player latched on with Sao Paulo as Juninho headed north to try his luck with the Galaxy in 2010 around the same time that Oscar made his own move to Brazilian giants Internacional. It was at the team affectionately known as O Clube do Povo (The People’s Club) that Oscar made his mark before landing a big money move to Europe.
The pair rekindled their friendship during LA’s participation in the Guinness International Champions Cup last year while Oscar was playing for his current team, English powerhouse Chelsea. Now the two players communicate like so many others separated by oceans and continents through like WhatsApp and Skype.
As he’s watched his old friend’s meteoric rise through the global soccer world, Juninho isn’t the least bit surprised about his success.
“He is a very smart guy in the midfield area,” said Juninho. “He is a pure number ten, so I think he is thinking ahead of the other guys and even though he’s not that strong, he moves a lot in order to find the gaps on the field.”
Oscar will have the weight of a country on his shoulders on Tuesday as he looks to replace the offensive-output of the injured Neymar for their semi-final against Germany. Oscar will be expected the slide from the flank position that he has held throughout the tournament to the No. 10 role that he holds for Chelsea.
Replacing a talisman like Neymar for such a match may be considered to be an impossible task to some, but Juninho believes that his old chum is up to the task.
“All of Brazil was sad when they learned that Neymar was out of the World Cup, but I think that Oscar is a good player and can handle the pressure,” Juninho said. “I also hope that Willian also steps into Neymar’s place and helps them beat Germany.”
As for the outcome of Tuesday’s semifinal, the LA Galaxy midfielder offered no prediction about how his who will win, but rather echoed the sentiment of all Brazilians ahead of the all-important match against Germany.
“They have to win,” said Juninho. “They just have to.”