'He is a leader, a winner' - World Cup dream driving Brazil icon Dani Alves towards Olympic gold

Written By Daniel Edwards
Dani Alves Brazil

It did not take Dani Alves long to get into the Olympic spirit.

Indeed, the inveterate Brazil prankster was up to his usual tricks even before landing in Tokyo.

Brazil's captain, dressed for the part in a flight attendant's costume, commandeered the plane intercom on the Selecao's flight into Japan and gave safety indications for the rest of the squad while a team-mate obliged with hand signals.

At 38, Alves' sense of humour has not dimmed; and nor, judging by his performances for Sao Paulo, has his talent on the football pitch.

Now, though, he has the chance to finally bring home a gold medal and just cannot hide his excitement.

“His eyes lit up. He is a symbol of the national team,” Brazil's Olympic coach Andre Jardine told reporters of the moment when Alves, who is competing in the Games for the first time in 2021, learned of his selection.

“He is a leader, a winner, he has great charisma, he's very respected by all the Brazilian players. He is a great example for this generation of players.”

The ex-Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus star is one of three over-age players called up for Tokyo, alongside Athletico Paranaense goalkeeper Santos and Sevilla defender Diego Carlos.

While Brazil were unable to call on Neymar, the star of their 2016 win on home soil in Rio de Janeiro, they still boast enough talent across the field, from Alves and Palmeiras wonderkid Gabriel Menino, 18 years his junior, at the back to Premier League duo Richarlison and Gabriel Martinelli in attack, to be considered real candidates to defend their gold medal.

That is not to say, of course, they should expect an easy ride in Tokyo.

The Selecao begin their Group D campaign with a fierce test, as Germany await on Thursday. Alves and his team-mates must then tackle the dangerous Ivory Coast, who will be looking for Manchester United wonderkid Amad Diallo to impress, before completing the first round against Saudi Arabia.

The holders will have to click immediately in order to progress, and much will depend on the form of Alves, who will be raring to go after watching Brazil fall short in the Copa America from the sidelines.

There is another motivation for the legendary right-back to show his best side at the Games, however.

“[The World Cup], being honest, is my biggest target,” he admitted to FIFA.com. “It was a really nice surprise to get an Olympic call-up, but ever since I left PSG, I promised myself I will give it absolutely everything to be at the World Cup.

“In life you have to set yourself big targets and go after them. You may achieve them, you may not, but if I don’t go to the World Cup I can absolutely promise it won’t be for lack of trying.

"If I don’t deserve it and another player does, I will be Selecao’s biggest supporter.

“But I think about the World Cup constantly and I’m dedicating myself to realising this dream. It would be the ultimate.”

While Alves will be pushing 40 by the time Qatar 2022 comes around, it may not yet be an unattainable objective.

Certainly, having driven Neymar-less Brazil to the Copa America title in 2019, Alves' absence was keenly felt this time round, as replacement Danilo did little to suggest that he would keep the veteran out of the team on merit alone.

Even if at Sao Paulo this season he has been more likely to pop up on the right side of midfield rather than defence, he remains a top-class full-back, capable of taking on anyone in world football and coming out on top.

The Olympics, then, marks the beginning of a crucial 18 months in the star's career, perhaps the final hurrah after two glittering decades as a professional which have yielded no less than 41 trophies between club and country.

An Olympic gold medal is indeed one of the few titles Alves is yet to win in his career, and after missing out five years ago as Neymar and co. took the glory, he is desperate to match that feat.

And if that helps the irrepressible full-back to take his place in Qatar, it would be rich reward for one of football's most eccentric, lovable personalities.

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