The careers of Alex Sandro and Danilo have always seemed inextricably linked. They reached the top of Brazilian football as team-mates at Santos, before winning the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011 together with Brazil. Now, after two and a half successful seasons at FC Porto, the duo have been recalled to the national squad.
Unfortunately, an injury sustained playing against Lille in the UEFA Champions League play-offs means Alex will miss out this time round, with Marcelo taking his place in Dunga’s squad. But it is a minor setback in the upward progress of the two friends, who have been a source of support and encouragement for each other throughout their footballing journey.
When FIFA.com sat down with the pair, it was easy to see that the bond between them goes beyond that of mere team-mates. Their friendship goes back a long way and will only have intensified with their respective call-ups for the upcoming friendlies against Colombia and Ecuador.
"We were both thrilled. Obviously either one of us would have been happy if just the other had been selected, but to be picked together is just perfect. To return to the Brazil squad alongside Danilo is incredible," said Alex Sandro. Unfortunately, his words were to prove fateful. Two days later, an injury to the left-back ruled him out of the squad, meaning Danilo will have the first chance to impress the new coach. That said, he will not forget about his friend, who can comfort himself with the knowledge that Dunga obviously thinks highly of him.
"It’s true. We've been together for so long that sometimes we have to take a break from each other,” Danilo laughed. “I’m only kidding. Alex is a true friend, a friend for life. We don’t just spend a lot of time together at the club, but in our free time as well," said the right-back. "If you play for the Brazil U-20 and U-23 teams, and then for a club as big as Porto, of course you dream about being called up for the full squad. Things are going really well for me at the moment, and it feels like it’s the right time to be picked for the Brazil squad again. If I get the chance to play I just hope I do well. If that happens, I think I’ll be picked again," said Danilo.
Alex Sandro and Danilo were called up to the Brazil squad in the aftermath of the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014, and a match that no Brazilian will ever forget – for the worst possible reasons. The memory of the 7-1 defeat against Germany still haunts the two players.
"That defeat was horrible, especially after seeing how proud Brazilians were to have organized a World Cup that the whole world was praising. It was one of those games where everything goes right for one team and everything goes wrong for the other. But we have to put it behind us now. Brazil have always had, and always will have, great teams," said Alex Sandro.
Danilo elaborated on the pain that such moments inflict. "I couldn’t believe it. It was devastating. But as a player it was even more painful. But that’s football. Everything can change from one moment to the next. That first half destroyed everything that Brazil had achieved at the World Cup," he recalled.
Yet one game will not erase the footballing history of a country that has won the World Cup five times. The two Porto full-backs already know what it feels like to win a FIFA tournament, after triumphing at the U-20 World Cup in 2011. Now they hope to be reunited with some of their former team-mates from that side, such as Oscar and Philippe Coutinho, in the full squad.
"I’ll never forget winning that title. No one really believed in Brazil, mainly because we were missing Neymar and Lucas Moura, but that just brought us together. It's a cliché, but we were a real family at that tournament, and that was key," recalls Danilo.
Although 2013/14 was a year to forget for Porto, almost everything has changed at the club this season – except for its full-backs. Danilo and Alex Sandro remain first choice, even after the arrival of Spanish coach Julen Lopetegui. And the team has made a perfect start to the season, with five wins in five games, qualification for the group stage of the Champions League, and not a single goal conceded.
“We couldn’t ask for more, could we? But, as the coach says, I believe we can still grow. We owe the fans a great season after a disappointing campaign last time round," said Alex Sandro, while Danilo praised the new boss. "There’s always some resistance to change, in all aspects of life, and it’s no different in football. But the coach has brought lots of good ideas and a new philosophy, and the truth is that we already had a very strong, close-knit group. It’s much easier to achieve success that way."
Now, Porto will aim to carry their Primeira Liga success over to the Champions League, where Shakhtar Donetsk, Athletic Bilbao and BATE Borisov lie in wait in the group phase. Yet whatever the future holds for the two Porto and Brazil players, Alex Sandro and Danilo remain brothers in arms - even if fate sometimes dictates that they take a break from each other.