SimaoSimao — Portugal’s winger Simao has always been one to rewrite history. Since he made his top-flight debut as a fresh-faced 17 year-old, he has never been out of the limelight. The Atletico Madrid star heads to South Africa this summer hoping to add to his tally of 79 full international caps, a total which makes him the most-capped member of the current Portugal squad.

Simaozinho, or ‘Little Simao,’ as he was known, made a dramatic start to his professional career with Sporting. The teenager came on as a 77th minute substitute against Salgueiros, and, barely 60 seconds later, became the youngest-ever top-flight goalscorer in Portuguese league history. At last, the fans at the Jose Alvalade had an idol to rival that other flying winger, Luis Figo, in their affections. What nobody could have expected was how Simao’s road to football stardom would so closely mirror the stellar career of Figo himself.

Just like his legendary predecessor, Simao made his international debut at the age of 19, and, as he had done with Sporting, marked his international bow with his first goal for his country. After getting his first taste of tournament football at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Nigeria, in 1999, he decided to leave his homeland behind, and seek his fortune abroad.

He left Lisbon after two seasons, moving to Catalan giants Barcelona to play alongside Figo himself. Their partnership only lasted one season as, at the end of the 1999/2000 campaign, Figo moved to Barcelona’s bitter rivals, Real Madrid. In fact, Simao himself only stayed one more year in the Catalan capital, but enjoyed some memorable moments, not least when the Portuguese superstar returned to the Camp Nou with his new team. On that fateful evening, it was the pupil who upstaged the master, as Simao bagged his team’s second goal to seal an azulgrana victory.

Summer 2001 saw Simao return to his homeland, this time to Sporting’s city rivals, Benfica. Ironically, in a repeat of his professional debut with Sporting, his first match with As Aguias (The Eagles) came against Salgueiros. Simao wasted no time in winning over the fans at the Stadium of Light, who made no secret of their joy in having captured such a talented player from the clutches of their arch-rivals.

Having settled in his new surroundings, the winger set his sights on the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan. But luck was not on his side; he picked up a knee injury in Portugal’s final warm-up game, and was forced to miss the tournament altogether.

However, it was only a matter of time before Simao had the chance to shine on football’s biggest stage. After representing the equipa das Quinas in UEFA EURO 2004, and captaining Benfica to league championship success in 2004 and 2005, he arrived in Germany in 2006 in the form of his life. He played in all seven of Portugal’s games at the finals, helping Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men to fourth place.

On the eve of his second FIFA World Cup finals, Simao knows that, if all goes according to plan, he will finish the tournament amongst his country’s top five capped players of all time, where he will join the likes of Figo, Fernando Couto, Rui Costa, Pauleta, Joao Pinto and Vitor Baia in the pantheon of Portuguese football.

While many looked at Ronaldo as the star of the national side, it was Simao who proved to be the match winner in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, finishing as Portugal’s top scorer with four goals, including two in a 3–0 home win against Hungary.

Simao was selected for the finals in South Africa; a starter from the second group stage match, he scored precisely in that game, a 7–0 routing of North Korea on June 21, 2010.

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