One thing Brazil have never been short of are talented full-backs. The pioneering Carlos Alberto made his mark at Mexico 1970, with Branco, Cafu and Roberto Carlos all distinguishing themselves in the position in the 1990s, and the incombustible Maicon and Dani Alves continuing the legacy today.
That legacy would seem to be in safe hands judging by the performances of Brazil’s full-backs at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011, although what makes the right-footed Danilo’s performances all the more notable is that fact that he is actually a midfielder and was expecting to occupy that position for A Seleçãozinha in Colombia.
“I’ve always preferred playing in midfield, which is where I feel happiest and where I played for Santos when we won the Libertadores,” Danilo told FIFA.com. “In fact I said I wanted to play there when I was called up, but I have to play at full-back and that’s something I don’t have a problem with.”
As if to prove that point, dedicated Danilo has worked wonders from the position so far at Colombia 2011, scoring his side’s first goal of the competition. Then, in a demonstration of his versatility, he turned in an outstanding performance in a more familiar midfield role in Brazil’s final group game against Panama.
“Danilo is a great footballer and he can slot into either position,” said his admiring coach Ney Franco, with anticipation growing for Brazil’s upcoming Round of 16 tie with Saudi Arabia. “We may well decide to use him in our next game as a midfielder.”
Should that be the case, Danilo, who scored four goals in Santos’s march to the 2011 Copa Libertadores title, including the winner in the final against Penarol, will be only too happy to oblige: “I always want to be near goal and it’s one of the main facets of my game. I’ve always got the energy to get into the box and I like to practice my finishing. It’s good to know what to do when you’re in that situation.”
Doing it for his country
A product of America Mineiro’s youth academy, from whence the likes of Gilberto Silva and Fred also emerged, Danilo got himself noticed while playing for the club’s youth teams and spent five years there before being lured to Santos. Having won the Libertadores with O Peixe, he now has the FIFA Club World Cup to look forward to at the end of this year.
“Not every player gets to run out in two tournaments like this in a year, that’s for sure,” continued the utility man. “I’d like to do as well as I can at both competitions, but the immediate objective is this World Cup.”
Danilo and his team-mates have been improving with every game so far in Colombia, recovering from an unimpressive opening draw against Egypt to then beat Austria and Panama by comfortable margins.
“That’s one of the qualities of this team, our ability to get better with every game,” he explained. I knew that’s how it would be. We didn’t have much preparation time in Brazil, but we’ve slipped through the gears in these games so far, and the important thing now is to keep it going.”
The Brazilians beat forthcoming opponents Saudi Arabia 2-0 in a warm-up match for Colombia 2011, and Danilo is dreaming of going much further than the next round: “I really want to win the competition and there are several reasons for that. Brazil lost the U-20 World Cup final two years ago, and we also came away empty-handed in the last few competitions we’ve played in, such as the Copa America, the Women’s World Cup and the U-17 World Cup. The people of Brazil are looking to us now and I want to give them something to shout about.”
No one will be happier to see Danilo do that than his brothers, all of whom are hoping to follow in his footsteps. The question is, though, will they be full-backs or midfielders? “Neither of the two,” replied their smiling sibling without a moment’s hesitation. “I hope they turn out to be strikers because you suffer a lot when you’re a defender.”