Foot soldier ready to give his all as he prepares for battle against paternal ancestors

The World Cup clash between Portugal and Brazil in Durban on June 25 will be an extra special occasion for the former’s central defensive colossus, Bruno Alves – a player whose links to South America’s largest nation run strong and deep.

Indeed, when it comes to sport, the bloodline of the Porto stopper is 100 per cent Brazilian. His father, Washington, was a centre-back for top Rio side Flamengo before emigrating to Portugal – where he turned out for Espinho, Varzim and Rio Ave – while his uncle Geraldo was an attacking virtuoso for Flamengo and Brazil in the late 1970s. A good friend of the young Zico, Geraldo sadly never had the glittering career he deserved, suffering cardiac arrest during an appendix operation and passing away at the age of just 22.

“Obviously, because of my family history, I do feel a little Brazilian, but I’ve followed a different path and I’m more than content to be Portuguese,” says Alves. “I was born, raised and educated in this country, my parents’ home is in this part of the world and my roots are here.

“I lived in Brazil for a year, around the age of five, but that’s as far as it goes. There is no question about my allegiance.

“I’m always extremely proud to pull on the Portuguese shirt and will do anything to defend my nation’s honour.”

And what a good job the 28-year-old is making of it. An international late starter who won his first cap just two-and-a-half years ago and only established himself as an automatic choice during the 2010 qualifying campaign, he approaches every game with the sort of physical intensity and uncompromising attitude few can muster.

Watching Alves in full-blooded action these days, one would be tempted to laugh at the suggestion that he has mellowed, that he operates with much more self-control than he used to. Yet it certainly is the case.

Once compared to Italy’s Marco Materazzi for his penchant for the ugly and the gratuitous – such as the infamous head-butt on Benfica striker Nuno Gomes which earned him a red card back in 2005 – he has wisely ditched the aggression-unlimited pose.

Although technically he may have his flaws, the fact of the matter is that Alves is not in the side to dazzle with finesse. Thumping tackles, totally committed aerial challenges and a willingness to put his body on the line are what he specialises in. And, to complete the picture of the gladiator, he is hardly ever injured – in the calendar year of 2009 he did not miss a single game for Porto in either domestic or Champions League action.

Renowned for an ability to score for Porto from set-pieces, he was to prove similarly decisive en route to South Africa: heading an injury-time winner in the 2-1 victory in Albania, then stealing forward to nod home the only goal in the first-leg of the play-off game against Bosnia.

“In a team blessed with more than its share of ability and imagination, you need foot soldiers – and Bruno Alves is one of the best, “ says former Portugal centre-back Eurico.

“He’ll move heaven and earth to keep the back door locked and has a knack for scoring key goals.

“What more do you want?”