Silky dribbler Marlos carries Shakhtar Donetsk's hopes against Roma
Kiev (AFP) - Ukraine’s Brazilian-born sensation Marlos has starred for Shakhtar Donetsk in a Champions League run that could see them reach the quarter-finals for only the second time when they go to Roma on Tuesday.
The 29-year-old attacking midfielder’s silky dribbling could also make an integral part of his adopted country Ukraine’s hopes of returning to the forefront of the international scene after failing to qualify for the World Cup in Russia.
A native of southern Brazil, Marlos moved to Ukraine in 2012 and became a citizen last year.
The Ukrainian player of the year for two successive seasons is the engine of a flamboyant Shakhtar side that features an eye-popping eight additional Brazilians and two Argentines.
Shakhtar edged out the Italians 2-1 at home in Kharkiv in the first leg of their last-16 encounter last month, meaning they head to the Stadio Olimpico in the driving seat.
They are also on course to retain their domestic title despite being based in three different cities over the past two years due to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Shakhtar’s Portuguese coach Paulo Fonseca has admitted that Marlos is “really important” to his side, describing him as “magical”.
Certainly, having a coach who speaks Portugese helps Marlos and the Brazilians gel into an attacking unit that has flourished in the Champions League.
Shakhtar beat Manchester City at home in the group stage and won away at Dutch champions Feyenoord despite finishing that game with 10 men.
Marlos was named February’s player of the month in Ukraine after scoring four goals and laying on three assists in three matches, leaving Shakhtar sitting pretty atop the table.
“To me, team achievements are much more important,” Marlos said after receiving the award.
- ‘My gift to Ukrainians’ -
Marlos began his career at Coritiba in his native Brazil, helping them win promotion before moving to giants Sao Paulo in 2009.
That was where he started to make a name for himself, regularly popping up with important goals. After moving to Ukraine Marlos settled quickly.
He first voiced an interest in playing for Ukraine’s national team in 2016 as the struggling country scouted round for help.
“If this happens, it will be my gift to Ukrainians for being so welcoming,” Marlos said at the time.
That wish came true in September when he was granted Ukrainian citizenship.
It was a decision that endeared him to Ukrainians – used to players looking for work elsewhere because of four years of armed conflict in the east and hard times all around.
The news was reported back in Brazil, although there was never any suggestion that he had the potential to play for the country of his birth.
Not that Ukrainians minded.
“In this difficult time for Ukraine, many athletes leave, adopting the citizenship of other countries,” said Ukraine coach and former AC Milan great Andriy Shevchenko.
“But Marlos, on the contrary, tied his future to our state. It would have been foolish not to pick such a player.”
He made his debut against Kosovo in a World Cup qualifier that Ukraine won, although they missed a place in Russia, finishing third in their group behind Iceland and Croatia.
Marlos has found the net 40 times in 158 appearances for Shakhtar and should be an enticing option for Ukraine for years to come.
And his belief in both club and adopted country has helped Shakhtar as they look to return to the quarter-finals, where they were well beaten by eventual winners Barcelona in 2011.
“We are confident that we will be able to get the result we need in Rome,” Marlos said.