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 By Tim Vickery

Diego Alves debuts for Flamengo in bid to reintroduce himself to Brazil

Amid the Neymar "will he-won't he" saga and the speculation surrounding Philippe Coutinho, the move made by one Brazilian player in this transfer window appears to have flown underneath the radar.

Diego Alves is only 32, not an advanced age for a goalkeeper, and surely had options in Europe. But after a decade in Spain he chose to move back home to Brazil, and made his debut for Flamengo in Sunday's 1-1 draw away to runaway league leaders Corinthians.

It was a decision motivated surely by more than homesickness or the desire to represent a giant team from Rio de Janeiro, the city where he was born. It seems clear that moving to Flamengo is about winning a place in the national team in the build-up to the 2018 World Cup.

Over the past year, of course, Brazil have been flying. Since coach Tite took over a year ago they have put together a run of swaggering victories. Their place in Russia next year was once in doubt, but they booked their place with four rounds to spare.

Goalkeeper, though, is a potential problem. Like his predecessor Dunga, Tite has gone with Alisson, a highly promising keeper and one who has not let the side down. But he hardly played for Roma last year, and inactivity is always a danger for a keeper. Has it taken the edge off Alisson's game? Will he spend much of the coming season on the bench? If so, Brazil are forced to look at alternatives.

Ederson is certainly in the frame, especially now that Manchester City have spent so much on him. His new club coach, Pep Guardiola, has been singing his praises. But there is the risk of an awkward debut season in the Premier League. City's central defensive unit may still not be watertight, and Ederson's lack of English may prove a problem.

There is an opportunity, then, for Diego Alves. He has been on the fringes of the national team for some time, and has made it in a few times. But he has never been given a chance to establish himself -- even though some insiders, and Brazilian ex-goalkeepers, see him as unquestionably the right man to form the last line of defence of the national team.

One obstacle is his lack of profile in his homeland. His time in the Atletico Mineiro first team was mostly spent when the Belo Horizonte giants were fighting their way out of the second division. So when he joined little Almeria in 2007 he was unknown to much of the Brazilian football public. His penalty-saving exploits at Valencia have given him some visibility, but nothing compared to playing for Flamengo. The Rio giants offer him an ideal platform to force his way into the national team.

And he did himself no harm in Sunday's debut. He was lucky when a Corinthians goal was wrongly ruled out for offside, and could perhaps have done better diving low to his left when he was beaten by a shot from Jo, the opposing centre-forward. But in the second half, in similar circumstances, he made a splendid save from the same player to ensure that his team drew the game, and he looked composed and accomplished in his handling and his kicking.

Diego Alves has had to take a wage cut to swap Valencia for Flamengo. But far more of his compatriots watched him on Sunday than ever paid attention when he was in Spain. And if the move helps him win a piece of World Cup immortality, he will see it all as worthwhile.

Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.


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