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Dos Santos discovers a new stage to star on

In his second match with Mexican national team, the young phenom takes on Ronaldinho and Brazil.

September 12, 2007|Jaime Cárdenas | Times Staff Writer

Giovani dos Santos, Mexico's 18-year-old soccer phenom, is about to enter a new stage in his career.

Think Kobe or LeBron on a soccer field.

Gio, as he is commonly known to soccer fans, is a young, athletic, physically gifted player. As a youngster from Monterrey, Mexico, dos Santos signed a professional contract with Barcelona when he was 13.

His skills seem to have no limit. People often compare him to his Barcelona teammate Ronaldinho, arguably the best soccer player in the world.

Tonight dos Santos will play his second game with the Mexican senior national team in a friendly against Brazil at Foxborough, Mass.

This will be his first game with El Tri in the U.S.-- and his first against the No. 1-ranked Brazilians and Ronaldinho, two-time FIFA player of the year, and Kaka, who could win the award this year.

Although Mexico beat Brazil, 2-0, this summer in the Copa America tournament in Venezuela, Brazil didn't field most of its stars for that event.

But on Sunday, Brazil, with its star cast, was clearly impressive in beating the U.S. national team, 4-2, in Chicago. And the match against Mexico is Brazil's last before it begins World Cup qualifying play next month in South America.

Dos Santos, after Mexico's practice session Monday in the New England Patriots' indoor training facility, said he was good friends with Ronaldinho and that the Brazilian star has been a huge influence in his career.

"I've known him for many years, before I made it to the first team," dos Santos said.

"He knows my dad and he has helped me a lot. Before each game he takes the pressure away."

Dos Santos is of Brazilian blood, which only make the comparisons to Ronaldinho more prevalent.

Dos Santos' father is Gerardo dos Santos, also known as Zizinho, a former Brazilian soccer player who was a star in the Mexican league during the 1980s.

Dos Santos and Ronaldinho plan to exchange jerseys after tonight's game.

"We talked about it . . . and thought it would be something that's very special," dos Santos said.

"It's a great honor to play against a team like Brazil and one of my biggest idols, Ronaldinho."

One player who saw dos Santos' skills up close is UCLA defender Tony Beltran. He saw two of dos Santos' games during the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Canada earlier this year and said comparisons of the teenager and Ronaldinho are fair.

"You can actually see the similarities. The way he runs, the way he stops and how he controls the ball," Beltran said. "Great players, they make it look so easy and so effortless and you can see that in him."

Two years ago, dos Santos led Mexico's under-17 team to that country's only FIFA U-17 World Cup title in Peru.

And already the buzz in soccer circles is that if Mexico hopes to do well in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, dos Santos will have to play a major role for Coach Hugo Sanchez's team.

"I haven't seen a similar striker like him break out with the Mexican national team," Beltran said.

"He is obviously in a class of his own in that group."

--

jaime.cardenas@latimes.com

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