• Brilliant Dani Alves lights up Sao Paulo as debut strike shows Europe's elite what they're missing
    12:29 | 19/08/2019

    Reinvented in his native Brazil as a playmaker, the former Barca and Juventus star still has talent to spare as he marked his debut with a goal.

    Photo by Getty

    A brave new era at the Estadio Morumbi began on Sunday. Two blockbuster signings were cleared to take the pitch for Sao Paulo in their Brasileirao showdown with Ceara, a duo that between them boast some of football’s biggest prizes.

    On the right-hand side of defence lined up the grizzled figure of Juanfran, the Atletico Madrid legend who has opted to spend his final playing years thousands of kilometres away from the Spanish capital. On any other day the 34-year-old would have been the biggest attraction as he made his Tricolor bow.

    Against Ceara, however, all eyes were on another man. Dani Alves, fresh from inspiring Brazil to Copa America glory, took the pitch wearing Sao Paulo’s No. 10 shirt, fulfilling a long-held dream of his to represent the club at a time when some of Europe’s biggest sides were still chasing his signature. That love is mutual: 40,000 fans turned out at his official presentation, and the Morumbi was packed on Sunday to welcome him back officially to Brazil’s top flight 17 years after leaving Bahia for Sevilla.

    But this is indeed a new beginning. Alves lined up in the middle of midfield in the host’s starting formation, far from his post on the right side of defence where he made his name. Following in the footsteps of Rai, Kaka and other Sao Paulo legends, he is the Tricolor’s No. 10 in every possible sense.

    That is not to say that at 36, the former BarcelonaJuventus and PSG star is looking to close out his career in a flurry of Harlem Globetrotters-esque tricks and exuberant showboating. Sunday’s first half saw him play primarily with his back to goal and with one or two touches, always looking to bring his team-mates into the game in the face of aggressive Ceara pressing.

    It was nevertheless far from a stroll for the star. After testing Ceara’s Diogo Silva in the first minute with an effort from outside the area Alves toiled under the close attention of the visitors’ markers, struggling to make much of an impact in a crowded midfield. On more than one occasion he was guilty of dawdling on the ball and losing possession in an opening 40 minutes that offered few thrills. All he needed, though, was one opportunity.

    Just as Ceara were looking forward to entering the break on level terms, Alves turned up in the area to break the deadlock. His goal owed much to Juanfran, who steamed down the right flank and crossed low into the danger zone; Ceara failed to clear their lines and Alves had no problem in bursting through after taking Raniel’s short pass and finishing with class.

    The goal sent a previously dormant Morumbi into raptures as almost every member of the Sao Paulo side shared in the celebrations. His last act of the first half saw him send a free-kick into the side netting before the referee’s whistle sounded, and he marched off down the tunnel with an ovation from the home stands ringing in his ears. His dream move was enjoying a dream start.

    Ceara were the team that pushed hardest after the break, and probably should have had a penalty when the spritely Felippe Cardoso was poleaxed by Sao Paulo goalkeeper Thiago Volpi with the net gaping. But Alves remained a danger, and almost added an assist to his goal in repaying the favour for Raniel before play was brought back for a marginal offside. With no further movement on the scoresheet Sao Paulo settled for a 1-0 win, far from a vintage performance but a more than satisfactory end to this historic day for the Paulista giants.

    Bigger challenges than Ceara will follow. Qualification for next year’s Copa Libertadores is the overriding goal for Sao Paulo this season, giving Alves the chance to add a win in South America’s biggest club competition to his three Champions League triumphs and thus enter an exclusive club of stars who have succeeded in both, a group that includes Ronaldinho, Carlos Tevez and Kaka.

    A top-six finish in this year’s Serie A would assure a place in the Copa, though there is no reason why the Tricolor, now five points back from leaders Santos with a game in hand and with four wins in their last four outings, cannot challenge for the title with less than half of the current campaign played to date. It is clear that the arrivals of Juanfran and especially Alves can only help in that quest.

    On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, meanwhile, more than a few teams may be looking at events in the Morumbi with no little regret. Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham were linked with Alves’ services this summer, while reports in Spain claimed he contacted Barcelona over a possible return only to see the Catalans turn down the opportunity.

    What is clear from Sunday is that, even at 36, in his first competitive match since the Copa America and with precious little time to prepare with his new team-mates, the right-back-turned-playmaker remains a priceless talent. His departure from Europe’s elite is a loss for his most recent suitors but without a shadow of a doubt a coup for Sao Paulo – and Brazilian football as a whole.

    Source – Goal.com

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