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Dante demonstrates commitment

Chooses soccer over video games

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The past few months have been nothing like Dante has experienced before. And the next few will be even more extraordinary as the defender attempts to help Bayern Munich defend its treble and Brazil win the World Cup -- at home, no less.

But it's just part of a fascinating story that began in 2001 when the then-18-year-old did something unthinkable to get on with a football club: he sold his electronics.

"My family did not want me to play football," he told the Winnipeg Free Press this month in an exclusive interview. "So I had to sell my video games to buy a bus ticket to the South where I was able to have a trial and get a chance to play for Juventude."

Stops at Fluminense, Portuguesa, Matsubara and Capivariano had yielded nothing, but a 2,950 kilometre bus-ride (think Paris to Moscow) to Caxias Do Sul resulted in a youth contract at Juventude and some warmer clothes. Dante had arrived without the proper wardrobe for the cold and wind of Rio Grande do Sul.

"No team in Salvador gave me a chance to play," he said, "so I had to look for another."

It was a trip, fraught with uncertainty, that in many ways has served as a template for Dante's career. Nothing has ever been handed to the 6-2 centre-back; rather, he has had to take the opportunities when presented and rely on his ability and self-belief to win others over.

After arriving at Bayern Munich in 2012 following European stops in France, Belgium and finally at fellow Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach, he was given a chance in the starting lineup due to a David Alaba injury that had forced Jerome Boateng to left-back.

He impressed, and by the time Alaba returned it was Boateng who was dropped -- that is, until Holger Badstuber went down with a serious knee injury. Dante and Boateng then backstopped Bayern to Bundesliga, DfB Pokal and Champions League titles.

Asked how Bayern could possibly improve on those successes, Dante said the side could "always improve" and play better as a collective. "We have such a long season with many more titles we play for," he said, "so we need to keep playing the best we can."

After lifting three trophies under the management of Jupp Heynckes, Dante and his teammates have had to adjust to life under Pep Guardiola -- a process that, according to the 30-year-old, didn't start off as smoothly as it could have.

"It took us a while to understand what (Guardiola) wanted from us," he said. "But after that initial phase we were able to play his style, and now we are having a lot of success. He has a much more modern way of thinking where the team should have more possession and attack more."

Guardiola's higher-pressing style means Dante will have to be even more careful when facing tricky forwards looking to capitalize on the break, and to that end he points out Mario Balotelli, Mario Gomez and Robert Lewandowski as the strikers who have given him the most trouble.

As for the best players he has played with over the course of his career: "Franck Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger."

Of course, while Dante's thoughts are on Bayern at the moment he has also given pause to think about the upcoming World Cup in Brazil, during which his hometown of Salvador will host four Group Stage matches, a Round of 16 encounter and a quarter-final.

"It is a dream," he gushed. "The last World Cup was over 60 years ago, so not every Brazilian player has had a chance to play at home. It will be great to have the fans supporting us."

But, he added, citing the Italians of 1990 and Germans of 2006, "playing the World Cup in Brazil does not guarantee that (we) will win. It is tougher to win at home. The pressure is greater."

According to Dante Germany, Argentina, Spain and Italy will pose the greatest threat to Brazil in June and July.

"However, there is always a surprise team," he said. "The World Cup is very tough and whoever is peaking in the right moment will have a chance to win it all." Twitter @JerradPeters

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 16, 2013 $sourceSection0

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