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Nov 20, 2006

Wunderkind Diego back with a bang

A few years ago, when Diego, Robinho and Kaka were the three brightest young prospects in Brazil, the football magazine Placar profiled the three and summed them up something like this: Kaka is a pop star, Robinho is a circus act, and Diego is the real thing.

The article paraphrased what many people at the time believed, namely that while all three were exceptional talents and personalities, Diego was the most rounded player and the one most likely to succeed.

Of course, it never quite turned out that way. Kaka went to Italy and quickly emerged as the standout player both for AC Milan and Brazil and Robinho, after winning the two Brazilian league titles with Santos, went to Real Madrid where he is now starting to show the samd kind of form that delighted fans in his homeland. Diego, however, went to Porto and couldn't even hold down a first team place.

Now, though, the 21-year old is back with a bang. After a miserable two years in Portugal, his decision to abandon Porto and try and kick start his career in Germany with Werder Bremen is paying off.

He is playing better than at any time since leaving Brazil in 2004, good enough to win the Bundesliga player of the month award in August and to earn a call up to Dunga's new look Brazil squad.

This week he will be pulling the midfield strings for Bremen against Chelsea and is delighted to be back on the big stage again after a depressing time under Co Adriaanse.

He is not quite ready to declare himself as happy as he was in Brazil, where he and Robinho starred in the best Santos team since the demise of Pele, but there is no doubt he is enjoying his football again.

'I don't like comparisons but I can say that I feel very happy on and off the pitch here in Bremen,' he said. 'Everybody welcomed me here and that made it easy for me to adapt.'

Bremen have been one of the surprise packages of the Champions League this season. In a group with Chelsea, Barcelona and Levski Sofia, they were expected to trail the big two.

However, they are giving the Catalans and the Londoners a run for their money and currently lie in second place in Group A, three points behind Chelsea and two ahead of Barcelona. If they can take even a point from Wednesday's tie they will set themselves up for a last day showdown at the Nou Camp on Dec. 5.

The Germans felt they were unlucky to lost to Chelsea in the first meeting between the teams and Diego said there was no reason why the Germans could not shock Mourinho's men at home this week and go on to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League for the third consecutive year.

'We are already accustomed to the competition, it is not the first time Werder is playing in the Champions League,' Diego said. 'We have a great team, a good coach and a clever manager. We won against Levski because we played very well.

'We also should have won against Barca because we were the better team, but unfortunately we conceded a goal in the last minutes of the match.'

Bremen have never beaten an English team in the tournament but Diego believes they could be about to break that duck.

Although they tripped up at home last Friday in losing 3-1 to Borussia Dortmund, they are unbeaten in their last five Champions League games at the Weserstadion and have scored five without reply in their last two European victories against Levski.

'We are playing at home, which is an advantage because we are very well supported by our fans,' said Diego. 'But both teams are of very high quality. I think the team that makes less mistakes will be the winner.'

Chelsea go into Wednesday's game knowing that just a point will guarantee them first place in the group. Although Bremen or Barcelona could equal their points tally they would still lose out because Chelsea have a better head-to-head record with both teams.

Bremen hope to split the two and on their current form they just might. That would be a sweet feeling for Diego. It also might vindicate Placar. Maybe they were right all along.


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