By Andy Hall
Sevilla FC's UEFA Cup first-round tie against CD Nacional promises to be a fascinating fixture between two sides that boast numerous Brazilian stars. One of the key figures will be Sevilla right-back Daniel Alves, who claims that he is "honoured" to share the pitch with his countrymen Julio Baptista and Renato Dirnei Florêncio.
It has been a whirlwind 12 months for Alves, who was named the player of the tournament as Brazil's Under-20s won the FIFA World Youth Championship last December. "It's not often that a defender is voted as the best player - that gave me a great feeling of satisfaction," he told uefa.com.
Sevilla offered him a four-year deal on his return, buying him outright from his first club, EC Bahia. And with the southern Spanish side having now brought in Renato and Baptista, there will be plenty of Brazilian flair in evidence as Sevilla make their return to the UEFA Cup after almost a decade's absence.
"Baptista is a player with a lot of character who scores many
goals," Alves said of his new team-mate. "Renato is a first-choice with the senior side - very few players reach that level. He's triumphed in Brazil and I hope he does the same here."
By his own admission, adapting to the Spanish game has taken time and Alves has been forced to look at his performances, cutting back on his charges forward to concentrate on defending. "I'm the kind of player that likes to help the front runners," he said. "In Brazil it's quite normal for defenders to join the attack but that's not the case in Spain and
I've had to learn to stay deeper and keep my position - that was quite difficult for me when I arrived."
However, certain similarities between the two countries did initially attract Alves to Spain. "In Brazil, people play football because it makes them feel good, it's not seen as a job or profession, it is something that is supposed to be enjoyable," he said. "The Spanish game is similar. It's quicker but there are similarities like the way skill on the ball is revered."
Those skills may be seen in abundance when Sevilla entertain Portuguese opponents, Nacional, who have their own fair share of Brazilian talent with Cléber Monteiro, Serginho Baiano and hit man Adriano Vieira. "This game is a big challenge for us," Alves continued. "This is a testing opener but we will be trying to get as far as we can."
Alves is confident that Sevilla have the resources to balance their UEFA Cup campaign with their domestic obligations. "Playing in two competitions at the same time is always taxing but I think that we have sufficient depth in the squad to compensate - we have others who can come in. It's going to be tough but when you see the excitement within the team about being back in Europe you know that it will all be worthwhile."
Despite being one of the most prodigious players in the Primera División, Alves remains unruffled when the subject of the Brazil senior side is mentioned. "Obviously to defend the colours of my country is a dream but I am still young and have my whole career ahead of me - I don't worry too much about it," he said. "For now, the main thing is that I strive to improve my own game with each day that passes."
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