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Alves stands firm as Portugal survey tough climb

Group B looks daunting by anybody's standards but Bruno Alves, the defensive rock on which Portugal are founded, is unflustered. "To be the best," he says, "you must beat the best."

Portugal midfielder Bruno Alves at a press conference
Portugal midfielder Bruno Alves at a press conference ©Sportsfile

Last week, with Portugal training in Obidos before departing for Poland, coach Paulo Bento unveiled his five captains for UEFA EURO 2012 – nobody was surprised when Bruno Alves's name was read out.

Cristiano Ronaldo remains, of course, the unchallenged holder of the armband. Yet Bento's idea in selecting the quintet was to establish an order of succession should the Real Madrid CF forward be unavailable, and provide some senior guidance for the squad. Alves is everyone's ideal big brother; formidable, reliable, a born leader.

His focus on the group dynamic is clear. Within seconds of sitting down with UEFA.com, Alves is praising the "quality and unity" of the group. He is considered one FC Porto's greatest skippers, winning four Liga titles and three Portuguese Cups in a decade on the books of his hometown club. When he speaks about Bento's leadership qualities, it pays to listen.

"There was immediately a very quick improvement when he arrived," enthuses Alves. "We were able to go and reach the [UEFA EURO 2012] play-offs, and then qualification. All the players already knew Paulo Bento from when he was a player, and for the work he did at Sporting [Clube de Portugal]: we all believe in the work he's doing."

Having left Porto in 2010, Alves has swiftly become part of another winning culture, this season completing back-to-back Russian titles with FC Zenit St Petersburg. While many would argue this is symptomatic of Alves's winning mentality, this is simply normal in the context of a talented Portugal squad, according to the man himself.

The defender believes this means even the stiff tests that await in Group B – against Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark – hold no fear. "It's a very tough group," he nods, "but in a tournament like this, we have to play the best. It so happens that we will face the best teams at the start of the tournament and we will give our best, because to be the best you must beat the best."

Joachim Löw's Germany, runners-up in UEFA EURO 2008, will provide a thorough first examination for Portugal at the Arena Lviv on Saturday. Nevertheless, having "adapted well" to a first week training in Poland, Alves says the focus in the Portugal camp is on their own strengths. "[Germany] are very strong opponents, very well organised," he said. "They are physically very strong and they have very good players but I think Portugal, with the quality and the unity we have, can win."

One should not rule out a decisive contribution from Alves, whose last goal for Portugal, against Bosnia and Herzegovina gave his side a lead in the 2010 FIFA World Cup play-offs that they never let slip. Yet he deflects the attention to the captain, whose quality he expects to lead his country forward.

"Cristiano is fantastic," enthuses Alves. "He's an extraordinary player, one of the best in the world, and someone who can always make the difference. He can be decisive at any point. He could have a great European Championship." With Alves stationed behind them, all of Portugal's forwards will feel they have the security to express themselves.