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The GOAT of right-backs! Ageless Dani Alves has surpassed Cafu as best of all time

8:00 AM GMT+8 06/07/2019
Dani Alves Brasil Argentina Copa América 02072019
One of football's most engaging personalities, the veteran has taken the Copa America by storm as he seeks another international title

Whether he is strutting in his wife's heels on social media or flying past an unsuspecting opponent on the football pitch, Dani Alves rarely fails to draw attention. 

The Bahia native, who turned 36 in May, has become something of a cult superstar thanks to his off-field antics, delighting fans with videos of his off-beat - so as not to say wholly insane - behaviour. 

But it is on the field where Alves really shows what he is made of. At an age where most players are hanging up their boots, he has the drive, talent and fitness to keep pushing himself to the limit - and Brazil, for one, could not be more grateful. 

While the Selecao have been blessed with wonderful right-backs over the years, he might just be the best of the lot, surpassing even a Canarinha legend and multiple World Cup winner like Cafu.

On Tuesday, Argentina became the latest team to suffer the wrath of Brazil's fireball full-back, who gave an impossibly complete performance to inspire his side to victory and the Copa America final. 

Alves does not just take opponents apart: at his best, he rips the very logic of football to shreds. Right-backs, after all, are not supposed to pop up in the area to finish open play goals - Dani did, charging forward to convert Roberto Firmino's clever pass earlier in the Copa and seal a 5-0 win over Peru

Right-backs are not supposed to dictate their team's play, especially when they line up alongside the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Arthur and Roberto Firmino. Nobody thought to tell Alves, that, though, as he prepared to put Argentina to the sword. 

Nobody on the Mineirao pitch, from either side, made more passes than the veteran's 80, while with 112 touches of the ball he surpassed by almost 50 Arthur, his nearest challenger in yellow and blue. 

What other player in his position could complete five dribbles, one of which opened the Argentina defence wide open to set in motion Jesus' opening goal? Add to that 11 regained possessions, another game-high, and what emerges is the image of a complete, almost perfect performance - even if he was lucky to see referee Roddy Zambrano overlook a wild shove on Sergio Aguero in the area seconds before Firmino hit the second of the night, a decision that sent the usually calm Lionel Messi into a wild fury.

"I agree, I also complain about referees," Alves said after the game in response to his former Barca team-mate's protests. 

"I don't like to talk about referees, but it seemed he was more nervous than we were."

Watching Alves over the 90 minutes, indeed over the course of this tournament, one would have to look very hard indeed to find any nerves on his part. 

He is a wonderfully assured presence on the right, who has thrived since Tite took over the national team mantle from dour Dunga in 2016 and restored the dying tradition of Brazil's marauding full-backs. 

The Selecao has not always been so kind to Alves. For years he toiled under the shackles of unadventurous, negative coaches who saw him as a loose cannon. He was rotated endlessly with the less spectacular Maicon, bagging a slightly unimpressive - by the standards of Cafu and fellow Brazil greats - trophy haul of a single Copa America title won in 2007 and two Confederations Cup gongs.

Dani sat on the bench in frustration as Maicon was torn apart in that infamous 7-1 World Cup humiliation at the hands of Germany in Belo Horizonte. Four years later, a knee injury ruled him out for Russia, surely his final chance of winning the title Brazilians regard as their birthright thanks to five previous triumphs. 

Indeed, he sits within an exclusive if unwanted group of Brazil greats never to lift the trophy, with the likes of Socrates, Zico and Falcao.

It was the cruellest of fates for the star, who at club level has won league titles in Spain, France and Italy as well as three Champions League trophies as part of Barca's all-conquering team. He also claimed two UEFA Cup titles earlier in his career with Sevilla.

But he took it in his stride and now seems hell-bent on delivering success in front of the Maracana faithful on Sunday. 

"We trust in our play and our own hard work a great deal," he added to reporters in Belo Horizonte. "There is one more step to achieve the objective we set ourselves from the start, but it is not easy."

Alves has rarely had it easy. As the youngest of five children growing up in rural Bahia he would rise at 4 a.m. to help his family collect onions and melons from the fields in searing temperatures, and when food was scarce hunted wild pigeons using traps and slingshots. 

He even made a 14-second cameo in a Brazilian film, appearing as a boy soldier shot in the heat of battle in exchange for a free meal and five reais (roughly a dollar) he could take home to his family. Alves is no stranger to adversity and is unlikely to feel the pressure when he steps out in front of a baying home crowd to take on Peru for the right to be crowned South American champions.

The Copa would also be title number 40 for him, a record in European football - he sits ahead of Maxwell, Ryan Giggs, Vitor Baia and Messi, who has 34 - that speaks volumes of his consistency and impact at the top level.

What happens next for the 36-year-old is still a mystery. Alves has already announced that he will not extend his stay at Paris Saint-Germain and is hopeful of finding a new club, with even a return to Barca three years after leaving for Juventus slated as a possibility.

Whether that dream comeback materialises or not, he deserves at least one more chance to prove he has what it takes to compete with football's elite. For while Cafu may have the World Cup medals and a special place in Brazil's hearts, this wild, hilarious, often outrageous and supremely talented figure has to be mentioned in the same breath as his predecessor at right-back, if not above the great.