JOHANNESBURG - Life could not be sweeter for Brazil midfielder Elano who has gone from a childhood helping his parents cut sugar cane to earning a regular place in the starting lineup of the world's top ranked national team.
The 29-year-old, who has effectively taken Ronaldinho's place and scored in the 2-1 opening win over North Korea, has become a favourite of coach Dunga after his career nearly went to ground in the frozen wastes of Ukraine.
"I've been through a lot in my life, it was a lot worse when I was kicking a ball around in a sugar cane field, so now I'm here, I just try to concentrate and try not to worry," he said during a recent media conference at Brazil's South African base.
Elano has been routinely called up for the Brazil squad for the last four years, winning all but two of his 46 caps under coach Dunga despite wildly fluctuating fortunes at club level.
He became a regular starter last year after Dunga lost patience with Ronaldinho, deciding that the AC Milan player's approach did not fit in with his down-to-earth philosophy.
Elano, now at Galatasary after leaving Manchester City, stepped in to fill the void at the Confederations Cup last year.
Raised in the small town of Iracemapolis, in interior of Sao Paulo state, Elano has taken a tortuous route to South Africa.
He helped his parents cut sugar cane and pick oranges, suffering a nasty injury as an eight-year old when a box of oranges landed on his leg.
He joined the youth divisions of Guarani, where he had to take four buses each way to and from training and slept in the bus station if he ran out of money during the day.
But the possibility of helping his parents find a better life kept him going.
"I wanted to get my parents away from sugar-cane cutting," he said in a television interview last month. "I wanted to give a life to my parents. I wanted to give my parents a house."
After making his name at Pele's former club Santos in the Brazilian championship, Elano fell on more troubled times when he moved to Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine.
Having signed a four-year contract, he considered quitting as the temperature plummeted to minus 15 Celsius and he struggled to adapt.
Out of the blue, he was picked for Dunga's first game as coach shortly after the 2006 World Cup.
He made the most of his chance with the sort of attitude Dunga is looking for.
"I've always considered myself a supporting actor in every club, I've never been worried if I'm going to be the main man or not," he said.
"I prefer to be an important piece in a winning group. I'm an employee here to do my job. I get up at 7.30, have breakfast and get on the bus to go and train."comments