x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Brazil set their sights high

Daniel Alves sauntered through the mixed zone in the bowels of Barcelona's Camp Nou last Saturday night, seemingly on a mission to avoid talking to any journalists.

Kaka, centre, goes through his paces during Brazil training in Teresopolis ahead of tonight's Bolivia game.
Kaka, centre, goes through his paces during Brazil training in Teresopolis ahead of tonight's Bolivia game.

Daniel Alves sauntered through the mixed zone in the bowels of Barcelona's Camp Nou last Saturday night, seemingly on a mission to avoid talking to any journalists. Sometimes players are wary of getting involved in the game of cat of mouse with the fourth estate. That was until someone mentioned Brazil. Alves stopped, smiled and relaxed, his diamond encrusted earrings with "D" and "A" picked out glinting in the glare of the camera lights.

"With Brazil we're very happy and playing with confidence," said Alves. "We believe in our coach and we've lost just once in 16 matches. We have so many great players to choose from, but what's important is that we feel like a team rather than a collection of individuals. We've won our last five games and that included a great win in Argentina." Brazil have already qualified for South Africa and lead the South American group. Tonight, they play Bolivia at altitude in La Paz, a venue which has undone even the most gifted visitors to the extent that Fifa were prepared to ban it from international football until an outcry made them reverse their decision. Yet Bolivia did not need their significant home advantage when they held Brazil to a 0-0 draw in Rio de Janeiro earlier in the group.

Full-back Alves is likely to play in a more attacking midfield role, with Brazil coach Dunga hoping that his surfeit of energy will compensate the lack of oxygen. Few players cover so much ground in world football as Alves, who used to describe himself as "hyperactive, impulsive and a little crazy." Duracell batteries should have used the 26-year-old instead of their indefatigable bunny to advertise their product in Brazil, yet Alves' physical strength is not only about his lungs. The player labelled "the new Cafu" rarely picks up injuries, a fact he puts down to training on the beach in his native Bahia state in north east Brazil with his first club, Bahia.

"Playing football on the Bahian sand made my ankles stronger and more resistant," says Alves, "while my feet became more sensitive, which improved my passing and shooting." On Wednesday, Brazil are at home to Venezuela, the only South American country in the 10-team group never to have qualified for the World Cup finals. The first four teams in the Comnebol group go through automatically, while the fifth-placed side, possibly Argentina, must take part in a play-off against the fourth team from the difficult Concacaf group, likely to be Costa Rica.

Asked whether Brazilians would delight in Argentina not reaching the finals, Alves replied: "Of course, there's a big rivalry between the two countries and Brazilians would find it very funny. I don't share that emotion. Argentina are one of the great international teams and they should be in the World Cup finals. I also play with Argentinians like Leo Messi here at Barca and want them to do well - but not against Brazil."

Before becoming the most expensive full back in the world when he joined Barcelona for ?36 million (Dh194m) in 2008, Alves played at Sevilla with Luis Fabiano. The striker is the group's top scorer with nine goals, with Alves noting Fabiano's "exceptional form, strength and accuracy". Brazil's other attackers like Robinho, Kaka and Nilmar, who scored a hat-trick in last month's 4-2 win over Chile, may receive the plaudits, but Brazil's defence has been uncharacteristically robust and has conceded nine goals, fewer than any other team.

"We're looking forward to South Africa," said Alves. "We had a good experience there winning the Confederations Cup in the summer and were impressed by the crowds and the stadiums. "We made a lot of friends and hope we can make many more by winning the World Cup again next year." @Email:amitten@thenational.ae Bolivia v Brazil, KO midnight, Aljazeera Sport +3