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17
Tue, Sep

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ma pau.jpgMa Pau's Brazilians kick off.
 
At the final whistle on Tuesday night, Brazilian Fabiano Agrappino smiled and tipped his cap towards patrons at the Larry Gomes Stadium and they cheered back.
Agrappino, a former fan favourite with Joe Public in the Semi-Professional Football League (SPFL) of the 1990s-the precursor to the present Trinidad and Tobago Pro League-was back but the Samba flair, this time, was provided by the seven players who accompanied him and a physiotherapist from Sao Paulo to Ma Pau FC.

On Tuesday, the Pro League got their first taste of the new blend as Ma Pau beat Defence Force 2-1 in Malabar with both goals coming from their South American imports. After a fine opener from Devon Jorsling, Elton De Britto brought the "Casino Boys" level before half time, while Jao Paulo Bezerra drilled home the winner, 11 minutes from time.

A week ago, Ma Pau coach Ron La Forest claimed to be "punch drunk" after Defence Force beat them 3-2 in Marabella. His broad smile and lingering embrace with Agrappino, after Tuesday's result, indicated what the reversal meant to him.

There have already been murmurs about the possible drawbacks of importing three-quarter of a starting squad although W Connection and Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA are no strangers to this philosophy. There is no Pro League rule restricting the use of foreigners at present.

"We are still at the stage where we think that foreign players will lift the standard of our product and make the league more exciting, competitive and unpredictable," said Pro League CEO Dexter Skeene. There was no denying the elevated level of excitement in Malabar where five of Ma Pau's seven Brazilians were used in attacking positions.

Ma Pau were no more solid in the back than earlier this year-despite a decent debut in central defence from Jone Alencar-but the Malabar venue was enthralled by their movement, slick passing and dribbling skills in attack. Defence Force were made to work hard but, still, were not exactly overawed.

It was Jorsling who produced the game's first authentic magic moment, with a free kick that curled and dipped into the far corner while, six minutes later, he should have doubled their advantage but slapped his effort off the upright instead.

The soldiers created at least as many chances as their opponents but, in the end, crisp finishes by De Britto and Jao Paulo-teed up by locals Keeron Benito and Sayid Freitas respectively-decided the open contest.

There was only the slightest ripple in the Pro League standings as Ma Pau moved off the floor to ninth place from ten competing teams. They face leaders and defending champions, Clico San Juan Jabloteh, next.

"We trying to go through with the momentum we have right now," said La Forest. "We know Jabloteh are the defending champions But we are just looking to keep our own momentum."

Ma Pau administrative manager Louis Charles suggested a whiff of internal insecurity when he refused to even confirm the spelling of Agrappino's name to the Express for fear that the Brazilian, who he said was "just an interpreter", might overshadow the work of the local staff. It is uncertain whether Charles feels equally emotional about Ma Pau's displaced locals like Rennie Britto, the club's top scorer with five goals, who came off the bench to play at right back on Tuesday. It is new ground for the fledgling club. The cat is out of the bag now.