RIO DE JANEIRO - South American champions Internacional have unearthed a 17-year-old prodigy they believe may steal the show at the World Club championship in Japan this month.
The player popularly known as Pato Alexandre - Alex the Duck - made an extraordinary professional debut a fortnight ago away to Palmeiras which has already got the critics talking about another great Brazilian discovery.
The quietly-spoken teenager scored after 94 seconds with his first touch of the ball, set up two more - including one with a disconcerting dribble - and headed against the post in a hectic 57 minutes before being substituted with his team 4-0 ahead.
They went on to win 4-1.
"We had believed something like this would happen, he's a sight for sore eyes," said Internacional president Fernando Carvalho.
"But I didn't expect such a mature and natural approach.
"That's why he had such a great game."
Internacional, who won the South American Libertadores Cup in August, are seen as Barcelona's main challengers at next month's tournament in Japan.
The emergence of Alexandre - full name Alexandre Rodrigues da Silva - is a major boost for Inter, who will be trying to keep the trophy in South America after Sao Paulo's win last year.
The Porto Alegre-based club have seen several key players, including defender Bolivar, midfielder Tinga and striker Rafael Sobis, depart for Europe since their Libertadores win.
On leaving the club in August, Sobis said he believed Alexandre would be his natural successor.
With European clubs snapping up promising South American teenagers at an ever-younger age, Inter have taken extreme caution in nurturing Alexandre who hails from the town of Pato Branco - White Duck - in the southern state of Parana.
Alexandre was only allowed to make his debut after being given a new contract with a fivefold wage increase that keeps him at the club until the end of 2009.
Inter have also inserted a $20 million (about R140 million) penalty clause for any foreign club which wants to sign him before then.
"Our caution with the Duck has been justified," said Carvalho.
"He's an exceptional forward, phenomenal." The club are also confident that instant success will not go to the player's head.
"He's an exceptional player and he's got his head in the right place," said team captain Fernandao. - Reuters