Assistant Coach for the Brazil Team
Colombia was winning 1 x 0 against Brazil. If that score didn’t change, Brazil would be eliminated of the Olympic Games. The game was in second half, and the Colombian team was already rehearsing their cry of victory. By then, the eleven of us were completely exhausted. We needed that victory very badly, but how could we turn things around in a situation like that? We were playing in Bolivia, roughly at 12,000 feet above sea level! It is not easy to breathe at such height–you inhale but no air seems to come in.
Bebeto had the ball. He was running toward the penalty area. He knew what he had to do. He would throw the ball toward the opposite touch line. He and I used to do that at the time both of us were playing for Flamengo. He would attract the defenders of the opposing team against himself and I would come to his rescue behind them. I would get the ball and set it over behind the defenders. It was a win-win situation. There was no way the defenders could prevent that. In the Maracan” stadium in Rio this kind of tactics always worked–but would it work now in Bolivia? My body ached terribly and I was physically exhausted. What could happen–I wondered?
I took a deep breath and then I prayed. “Lord, I need to get close to that ball.” Bebeto threw me the ball. It looked more like a rabbit and it was just about to escape from me toward the goal line. “Lord, please, give me just one more inch of strength”, and I ran.
Higuita (the Colombian goal keeper) left the goal area as he was coming against me. But I managed to kick the ball before he reached me. It went straight to the net. Brazil scored and we were even! Wow! Somehow we managed to turn things over, we held onto the tied score and won the championship. Brazil was classified for the Seul Olympics.
Since then I have gone through endless games and championships and I have traveled all over the world. I thank God I had the opportunity to play for winning squads like Flamengo (at the time Zico was their most famous soccer star), and for Munich Bayern. I also made it to the Olympic Games once and twice to the World Cup Soccer.
I thank God that He allowed me to play for our national soccer team. I have preached God’s word everywhere I have been. I came to know God through remarkable miracles in our own home.
I was born in Rio de Janeiro and I practically never knew my father–he died when I was a little kid. But I did come to know many difficulties and problems in life, especially through my eldest brother. Jaime was an alcoholic and he was always drunk when he arrived home and he would break things around him. When he was under the influence, he had a terrible strength and it was usually very difficult to stop him–I would get tired both physically and emotionally every time. Oh, how many times we were up late in the night because of him. We had no joy in our lives. It had been a long time since we felt like we had no strength left because of that battle against the alcohol in him. It was as if the enemy was winning 10 x 0 and it was just about to end the second half of the game. We could do nothing about that situation, and we didn’t even know whether we would be able to stand it one more time. But surely God was able to reverse that score.
God’s first intervention was in rescuing my brother Jaime from certain death after he was involved in a terrible accident in Rio. I will never forget the scene–the white wagon used by the morgue arriving to take his body for medical examination. The doctors and nurses were surprised when they realized my brother was still alive since his two friends who were with him had already died on the scene of the accident.
God’s second intervention came when the Lord set Jaime free from his alcohol addiction.
One night he came home to our family and said: “From now on I am not going to drink alcohol anymore. Jesus has set me free from this terrible vice.” And that was true. Jaime has never put a single drop of alcohol in his mouth ever since. He changed completely. God had indeed made wonders in my brother’s life. How could we deny that?
God also worked in my life. At that time, I would practice all week but on the day of the game, minutes before the games started, I felt like my body would stop. It was as if someone had pushed the brakes of my body very hard. I couldn’t even walk, let alone run after a soccer ball. Nothing seemed to relieve me of those pains in my body.
When Zico returned to Flamengo, I felt very well physically. I was excited about playing that game. Famous players would be participating–people like Maradona, Falcao, Rumennige, and Gentile among other big names of the world of soccer. The 1986 world cup was getting closer, and that was the chance I had to show off my soccer skills. But it turned out that I must have kicked the ball the wrong way and all the pain was back. I felt my body suddenly stop and I had to be taken off the field on a stretcher. I cried a lot. On that same night I made a decision to follow Jesus Christ.
Jesus changed my life completely. My pain just disappeared–it has never since returned! I was able to continue playing soccer, and I was sure I didn’t have to end my career before my time came. In fact, I was just starting a long journey of victories and conquests, always trusting in Jesus Christ. I used to be a “bad boy” in Flamengo before that. The referees may have got tired of showing me the red card as the most violent of all Flamengo defenders. But the peace I found for my spirit was so evident that it even changed the way I played soccer on the field. As a result, some years later the FIFA association granted me the “Fair Play” award as the world’s most loyal soccer player–I had played in the German league for four seasons without ever receiving a single red card! If you want to experience God’s turning point in your life also, then read John 8.31-36.