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Toni v Grafite

Fired-up Luca vows 110 percent effort

Luca Toni didn’t hesitate when asked who were the best strikers in the Bundesliga, after those at Bayern of course. “Ibisevic,” he said, “Gomez and Helmes.” The FCB man failed to mention Wolfsburg hitman Grafite, pronounced ‘Gra-feech’ and meaning ‘Granite’ in Portuguese, who is joint top of the league scoring chart alongside long-term injury victim Ibisevic.

Naturally, Toni in fact knows all about the on-fire Brazilian. “He’s a good player and scores a lot.” Two days before the head-to-head with Grafite, that was all Toni was prepared to say.

Saturday’s clash in Wolfsburg pairs not only the sides dead level in second place on points and goals, but also last season’s leading scorer Toni and Grafite, a strong candidate to succeed him. Both have made 16 appearances to date, Grafite netting 18 times (including six penalties), and Toni nine (with no penalties). Both are pivotal figures for their teams as the title race enters the home straight.

The German Brazilian

“His attitude is outstanding, he works for the team and scores regularly. He’s unbelievably important to us,” VfL coach Felix Magath says of Grafite. The 30-year-old even describes himself as “an unusual Brazilian, who plays a bit like a German” and who is “enjoying the best season of my career.”

Toni’s more patchy record is largely due to a string of injuries this term. Bruised ribs forced him to the sidelines before Christmas, and an Achilles problem after it. Five and a half weeks after his last game, the away trip to Sporting Lisbon, he is now preparing to re-enter the fray in Wolfsburg.