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No joy in victory, say teammates

SOLEMN MOMENT: Dempo Sports Club players pray for their departed teammate, Crisrtiano Junior, after the match on Sunday. - PTI

SOLEMN MOMENT: Dempo Sports Club players pray for their departed teammate, Crisrtiano Junior, after the match on Sunday. - PTI  

BANGALORE, DEC. 6. Cristiano de Lima Junior did what he loved most — score goals. His twin strikes in the final of the 26th Federation Cup football tournament helped Dempo Sports Club, Goa inscribe its name on the Cup for the first time. But the man who was instrumental in making it possible did not live to see the moment.

The 25-year-old from land of football — Brazil — loved India and was adored both at Kolkata, where he joined East Bengal in 2003, and in Goa where he played for Dempo.

"He was a God-fearing man and that's what probably attracted him to the land of churches and Portugese-speaking people.. for his English was limited," said a Goan official.

In his short stint with Dempo Cristiano had endeared himself to his fans. His penchant for scoring goals — five goals in the four matches of the Federation Cup — bears testimony to his talent.

He played for eight clubs in Brazil with the famed Vasco da Gama, being his favourite. His friend fellow Brazilian Douglas da Silva, a central midfielder with East Bengal, was instrumental in Cristiano coming to India.

Hunger for goals

Initial reports said he was an average player, but with his hunger for goals it was just a matter of time before he made his mark. Subhas Bhowmick the East Bengal coach, was the first to acknowledge the Brazilian's talent and the rest, as they say is history.

In his first season with East Bengal he scored 15 goals in the National Football League (NFL). Adorations and adulations poured in. However, East Bengal failed to hold on to him.

"I have already given my word to Dempo and Dempo it shall be," was his reply on the transfer to the Goan club. Baichung Bhutia, the Indian spearhead, with whom Cristiano formed a lethal pair for East Bengal, was the first to decry the Brazilian's transfer. "It's a mistake to release Junior," he said.

Soon Cristiano became a household name in Goa, where football is a passion. "He was a jovial person and a great influence," his teammates said. "There is no joy in this victory. Any day we will exchange this trophy for our Junior."

Majek Bolaji, the gangling Dempo stopper read out a speech as the body was lowered into the casket: "Junior we all love you ... though you are not with us this moment you will always be amongst us."

Lazarus Fernandes and Melwin Rodrigues, who shared the hotel room with Cristiano were inconsolable. "We just could not sleep the night ... his figure was looming large in front of us. If AIFF permits we would like to don his jersey and play the NFL."

Ronty Martins, the Nigerian who combined with Cristiano upfront in the four matches of the Federation Cup here, broke down and was seen praying for his fellow striker's life.

Roberto was seen sobbing besides Cristiano's body all through the night while informing his people back home. And Juliana, Cristiano's wife was shattered.

The body, flown by an Indian Airlines flight to Goa at 11.10 a.m, will be embalmed before arrangements are made to airlift it to his homeland.

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