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Adriano returns to football, sets sight on playing World Cup at home

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SAO PAULO - Former Brazil striker Adriano has played again after a nearly two-year layoff and is setting his sights on a return to the national team for the World Cup at home.

Although Adriano played less than 10 minutes in Atletico Paranaense's 1-0 win over The Strongest of Bolivia in the Copa Libertadores on Thursday, it marked his return to football after a series of injuries and off-the-field problems that almost led to his retirement.

Four months before the World Cup, the 31-year-old Adriano says it's difficult not to dream about playing in the World Cup with Brazil this year, although he admits it won't be easy and that he will have to be patient to regain his best form.

"I would be lying if I said it's impossible to return to the national team and play in the World Cup," Adriano said. "The World Cup is one of the titles I have never won, along with the Libertadores, but I have to keep working hard here at Atletico to regain my space bit by bit."

A starter for Brazil in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Adriano hadn't played a match since March 2012, when he still played for Brazilian club Corinthians.

He barely touched the ball Thursday after coming on as a substitute in the 84th minute. He had no reason to complain, though.

"I'm really moved," the striker said after the match in the southern city of Curitiba. "After two years, it's very gratifying to wear a club's jersey and to step on a field again. It's great to be able to come back after everything that I've been through."

Adriano endured off-the-field problems throughout his career. He was released by Corinthians in 2012 for allegedly not committing to a recovery program after Achilles surgery on his left leg. He signed for Flamengo later that year, but left without playing a single match after repeated absences from training and team activities.

Adriano won four Serie A titles with Inter Milan early in his career, and with Brazil he won the 2004 Copa America and the 2005 Confederations Cup. He was in the starting lineup for Brazil when it was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the World Cup in Germany, and missed out on the 2010 squad in South Africa despite leading Flamengo to the Brazilian title a year earlier.

"I have every reason to believe it will all end well," Adriano said. "I'm on the right track."

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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