x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Brazil has not yet seen Dante’s peak at World Cup 2014

Dante, Brazil’s “other” big-haired central defender, has changed considerably since the days when he played on the cobbled streets of Salvador’s Pelourinho district and attended league matches at the old, pre-renovated Arena Fonte Nova.

Dante, right, says he and his Brazil teammates are 'working hard' because a 'not-so-good game could end their World Cup dream. Alexandre Cassiano / AP Images
Dante, right, says he and his Brazil teammates are 'working hard' because a 'not-so-good game could end their World Cup dream. Alexandre Cassiano / AP Images

The life of Dante, Brazil’s “other” big-haired central defender, has changed considerably since the days when he played on the cobbled streets of Salvador’s Pelourinho district and attended league matches at the old, pre-renovated Arena Fonte Nova.

Saturday, in front of 62,000 spectators at Belo Horizonte, he will hope to play his part in his country’s advancement to the quarter-finals of the World Cup when Brazil meet Chile.

A late bloomer, Dante turned professional at age 19 and played two seasons at Juventude largely flying under the radar.

Even now, despite being a key part of Brazil’s Confederations Cup squad last year and being one of Luiz Felipe Scolari’s 23-man team this summer, his name does not appear alongside the likes of Cafu and Thiago Silva in the “Historical Former Players” section of the club’s Wikipedia page.

He moved to Europe at 21, trying his hand, first, in the French league and then the Belgian Pro League before settling, and starring, in Germany’s Bundesliga.

Three impressive years at Bayern Monchengladbach saw him clinch a move in 2012 to the country’s top attraction, Bayern Munich, where he won the Uefa Champions League in his first season.

“Childhood in Salvador was tough,” Dante told The National. “But through football I have been able to give a good life to my family. I am glad I have worked so hard for this and I had a chance to be a better person and help many people.

“Of course, we have to miss our country and culture, but one gets used to the new environment and we know our passage in Europe is for a good cause and that, one day, it will end.”

Zico, one of Brazil’s most idolised former players, recently asserted that the Brazilian public does not feel the same passion for the national team as it did when he played in the 1980s because players such as Dante and Hulk, Dani Alves and David Luiz never played regularly and at a high level in Brazil.

It is a claim that Dante accepts, albeit reluctantly.

“It is true that we left our country many years ago and most of our careers have been in Europe,” he said. “However, if you can follow football on television, in newspapers, on the internet, you can know and see what we do with this world that we now live.

“Unfortunately, since the 2002 World Cup this has been the trend.

“But, who knows, maybe one day the championship in Brazil will get stronger and more players will come back. I would certainly like to come back to Salvador and play for Bahia some day.”

Dante has yet to feature during this World Cup, but he proved himself to Scolari at last year’s Confederations Cup when he came off the bench in Salvador and scored the opening goal in his team’s 4-2 win over Italy in his home city. Brazil won the tournament with a 3-0 win over Spain in the final.

“To score the first goal at the new Fonte Nova with the Selecao was a dream,” he said. “It is something that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

In this Brazilian squad, Dante is the backup option to the player who replaced him at Juventude all those years ago, Thiago Silva, and the original big-haired Brazilian, David Luiz.

However, a back injury suffered in training on Thursday has put Luiz’s participation on Saturday in doubt.

Should he be called upon against Chile, Dante is ready.

“There are many good teams, so if one day you have a not-so-good game, then, you can lose it all,” Dante said.

“We need to be focused all the time, keep working hard every day in practice, push everyone to be at their best and be ready for each challenge.”

Chile, with their slick passing game and menacing pace in attack, will prove the toughest challenge yet to a Brazilian defence that has looked vulnerable throughout the tournament. Should the hosts progress, they will meet either Uruguay or Colombia in the next round.

For a South American who has played almost his entire career in Europe, it will prove an eye-opening few days, but he is ready.

“We are united to reach our objective, which is to win the World Cup at home,” he said, citing Germany as a side he would ideally avoid. “While we know it is not going to be easy to win it, we are working very hard to achieve it.”

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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