Rafael feeling right at home
© AFP

Brazil right-back Rafael made an eye-catching contribution to his side’s opening match of the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012, against Egypt in Cardiff. A Seleção’s much-vaunted attacking quartet may have stolen the show, but the Manchester United player did what he had to do and more, defending solidly and getting forward at every opportunity, so much so that he even opened the scoring in Brazil’s 3-2 win.

While the 22-year-old defender looked right at home on Thursday, he should feel even more comfortable come Sunday’s game against Belarus, when he will be patrolling the right flank at Manchester United’s Old Trafford, the place he has called home for the last five seasons.

“Well, I’ve been talking about that with the rest of the guys in the dressing room, telling them: “I’m going to play at home and you’re not’,” the ever-smiling Rafael told FIFA.com after his side’s win over the Egyptians. “I’ve been there for five years now. I know everyone and I think a lot of the fans who’ll be going to the stadium will know me well. I think the reception I’ll get will be different.”

The player’s already lengthy stay at one of the biggest clubs in world football has gone a long way to making him an undisputed first choice for Brazil’s Olympic team, the stepping stone he hopes for achieving his dream of a place in the side that will represent the country at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.

“Playing for Manchester United gives me hope that I’ll be there at the World Cup. I’ve always said that,” added Rafael, who served his apprenticeship in Fluminense’s youth set-up. “I know I’ll have a lot of competition from some great players like Dani Alves, and I know how important it is to do a job for Mano [Menezes, the Brazil coach] whenever I’m playing for A Seleção. But I think I can do it.”

It could end up being a good thing for us. It could give us a different outlook on things. After all, we’ve been together for 22 years now.
Rafael on his brother Fabio's move to QPR

If his performance against Egypt is anything to go by, Menezes has every reason to be delighted with his right-back. Given the presence of Real Madrid’s adventurous full-back Marcelo on the other side of defence and the tendency of forwards Neymar and Hulk to drift out to the left, you could be forgiven for thinking that A Seleção have a preference for attacking down that flank.

With his continuous forays down the right, however, the Manchester United man brings balance to the side while also linking up intelligently with midfielder Oscar, who set up him up for his surprise goal against the Egyptians.

“Wow, did you see that? Oscar’s just too much,” exclaimed an appreciative Rafael, before jokingly lamenting the fact that his international team-mate will now be playing his trade for Chelsea, one of United’s biggest rivals: “He’s an incredible player. When I see him doing these amazing things it almost makes me feel sad to think that he’s gone to one of our rivals.”

Rafael is still adjusting the break-up of another and longer-standing partnership: the one he formed with his twin brother, left-back Fabio, who left Old Trafford in April to join Queens Park Rangers on loan. “In one way, it will be good for us to be apart,” said Rafael. “Perhaps it will help us mature a little more.”

The two had been together throughout their playing career, representing both Fluminense and Brazil at youth level prior to their joint move to Manchester in 2008.

“It could end up being a good thing for us,” concluded the right-back. “It could give us a different outlook on things. After all, we’ve been together for 22 years now. Fabio is happy there and I’m happy here, with the national team at Old Trafford. I’m going to be thinking of him, that’s for sure.”