x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Alves getting his kicks

The Brazilian talks about the honour of pulling on his country's yellow shirt and dismisses the theory that the full-back is the weakest player in the team.

Despite a starting role for Barca, Alves is not guaranteed a place in Brazil's first XI.
Despite a starting role for Barca, Alves is not guaranteed a place in Brazil's first XI.

Gianluca Vialli, the illustrious Italian who once managed Chelsea, used to theorise that the right-back was always the weakest player in a football team: if he could tackle and was of average height he would be a centre-half, if he could attack he would be a midfielder and if he was genuinely two-footed he was more valuable on the left.

Daniel Alves, Barcelona's diminutive right-footer, is making Vialli look very foolish indeed. The 26-year-old, since moving to Spain from Brazil's colourful coastal state of Bahia in 2002, has been collecting trophies and personal accolades with a speed similar to that which he displays during his surging, over-lapping runs up the right flank. "I always say that football is a profession that was made for one to play and enjoy," he says. "It is a competition where one wins, loses or ties and the important thing is to know how to accept it if you do not win. It's hard sometimes, but you have to put yourself in the others' shoes and understand that one can never win all the time."

Unless, that is, you are Alves. Last season, he won every domestic honour available to him with Barcelona. He has been named the Most Valuable Player of both the Uefa Cup and Uefa Super Cup, has been included in Uefa's Team of the Year twice and been declared the best defender in Spain's Primera Liga. He was indispensable in 2009 as Barca made history, winning six competitions. He has also, with Brazil, won each of the tournaments he has competed in: the 2007 Copa America and the 2009 Confederations Cup, and, having made his international debut in October 2006, has yet to appear at a World Cup - the one major international medal that remains missing from his trophy cabinet.

Brazil meet the Republic of Ireland tonight in a glamour friendly at London's Emirates Stadium. It will be one of the Selecao's final preparation games before boarding the plane to South Africa in June and consequently one of the last chances Dunga, the national coach, has at running the rule over a squad much-fancied for summer success. "Difficult," is the word the defender chooses to describe his country's group, which includes Ivory Coast, Portugal and North Korea. "I think ours is one of the hardest. Playing our brothers [Portugal] will be challenging and we're going to play an African team when football there is getting stronger by the year, so that will present its challenges too.

"We are going to have to really concentrate and be well prepared in order to be able to make it to the next phase, because this is not going to be an easy group to beat," adds Alves, who is often compared to Cafu, Brazil's most-capped player and World Cup-winning captain in 2002. "For me, there will never be another Cafu. He's my hero in many ways. I'll try my best to reach even 10 per cent of what he did, if I'm lucky.

"I have met him twice: first when I was back in Bahia, then again in the Super Cup final when Sevilla played AC Milan. We never had much of a chance to talk, but it's great to have him as a reference in my professional career." Alves, despite his accomplishments, still finds himself playing second fiddle for his favoured role at right-back. Dunga appears to prefer Inter Milan's taller, more physical Maicon on the right and has often deployed Alves instead on the left side of defence in a bid to utilise his talents.

Far from complaining, Alves is just proud to appear in the famous yellow jersey. "Actually I find it easier playing for Brazil than Barcelona because, in the Selecao, we all have that unspoken understanding," he says. "We know and understand how to play our game and how things work. We all speak the same language, we all move at the same pace, with the same rhythm. We also all come from similar backgrounds - I've been kicking ever since I was in my mother's stomach so adjusting comes almost automatically. As kids in Brazil, football is a passion; to play for the country is every Brazilian's dream and mine has come true." * Additional reporting from Patrica Santos Rep of Ireland v Brazil, 12.05am Wednesday, Aljazeera Sport + 3

Cafu 145 caps (1990-2006) Arguably the greatest full-back of all time, Cafu, pictured, collected more caps for Brazil than any other player in the country's history. He appeared in four consecutive World Cups and is the only player to ever appear in three finals, two of which he won, one as captain - in Japan and South Korea in 2002. Nilton Santos 75 caps (1950-1962) The left-back won back to back World Cups in 1958 and 1962. During the first triumph, Vicente Feola, the Brazil coach, was worried by Santos's marauding runs, but even he could do little but smile when his wing-back appeared in the opposition area to score as Brazil won their opener over Austria 3-0. Carlos Alberto 53 caps (1964-1977) Named in the Team of the 20th Century, he had composure and creativity not common in defenders. In the 1970 World Cup final, as captain, he scored the fourth goal in Brazil's 4-1 win over Italy after a rampaging run found him in the opposition's area. The famous strike is one of the best-ever World Cup goals. Jorginho 64 caps (1987-1996) The former Bayern Munich right-back was famed for both his assured defending and accurate crossing, Jorginho was, alongside Branco on the left side of defence, fundamental to the Selecao's triumph at the 1994 World Cup. Roberto Carlos 125 caps (1992-) Famous as much for his free-kicks as his defensive displays, his most memorable goal came not during Brazil's World Cup 2002 triumph, but rather a swerving strike during a friendly tournament in France. May still be picked for South Africa.