Alisson, Ederson make goalkeeper one of Brazil's greatest strengths
A year or so back, there were whispers that goalkeeper might be a problem position for Brazil as they build towards the World Cup. It is not a point that anyone is making now, as Wednesday's Champions League clashes make clear.
First up, there is Ederson, in action for Manchester City against Liverpool. He began his debut Premier League season under pressure -- coach Pep Guardiola could not afford another Claudio Bravo-like flop. And the young Brazilian, still only 23, has more than lived up to his billing as a prototype Manuel Neuer.
Big, brave and commanding, Ederson has enjoyed a memorable campaign. And in addition to his ability between the posts, there is his kicking; with a left foot that is both precise and awesomely powerful, he can pass out from the back with safety, or hit long-distance howitzers if the opposition chose to press high.
He was not particularly well known even at home a year ago. Let go by Sao Paulo, his career developed in Portugal, first with Rio Ave and then battling it out with veteran compatriot Julio Cesar at Benfica.
His development abroad is obvious in his style of play. Brazil is no stranger to kicking keepers; free-kick specialist Rogerio Ceni holds the world record for the amount of goals scored by a goalkeeper. But usually in Brazil, the defensive line plays very deep. There is little need for the keeper to perform the kind of function that Neuer does so well for Bayern Munich and Germany: coming out of his goal to take charge of matters closer to the halfway line. Playing for Benfica -- a club who are dominant in the vast majority of their league games -- allowed Ederson to develop this side of his game, which fits in so well with Guardiola's idea of play at Manchester City, and which could be useful for Brazil in Russia.
But it is highly unlikely that Ederson will start the World Cup as first choice. He has to play second fiddle to Alisson, who has the unenviable task of trying to stop Lionel Messi and co. on Wednesday when Roma visit Barcelona.
The 25-year-old Alisson has been Brazil's first choice for some two and a half years. He came through the ranks at Internacional, in Porto Alegre, and had to wait until he was around 22 to become the club's undisputed starter. He was battling it out with his older brother Muriel, now in Portugal with Belenenses, and also with former national team keeper Dida.
There were some high-profile mistakes in Dida's career, but also some sound service, for the likes of AC Milan and for the Brazil national team. Indeed, he was one of their few successes in Germany 2006, saving them from a much heavier defeat than the 1-0 loss against France in the quarterfinal that brought an end to their campaign.
The fact that Dida could play so well and for so long for a club such as Milan is evidence of the progress that Brazilian goalkeeping has made in recent decades. And the before and after figure, the man most responsible for opening these doors is Taffarel, who played three World Cups between 1990 and '98 with plenty of highlights and barely a blemish.
It was Taffarel, another product of Internacional, who started banging the drum for Alisson. After the 2014 World Cup, then-national-team-coach Dunga chose Jefferson of Botafogo as his first-choice keeper. Without doing anything radically wrong, Jefferson did not look entirely convincing. In the first round of 2018 qualifiers, away to Chile in October 2015, Brazil went down 2-0. Taffarel, who was on the coaching staff, made his recommendation. Five days later, for the home match with Venezuela, in came Alisson, just turned 23, for his international debut.
He has been there ever since, never letting Brazil down and coming up with some important saves. Brazil kept faith with him even when he moved to Roma and spent the entire 2016-17 season on the bench. Now first choice for his club, so well has Alisson performed that he is being linked with moves to Real Madrid and Liverpool. In the Champions League, Roma may well not have got past Shakhtar Donetsk in the previous round without him. And with Brazil, his prestige is high. For the recent friendly away to Russia, Alisson captained the side. Ederson has so far been restricted to just one international appearance.
And so Brazil have two top-class young keepers available to them. Coach Tite's goalkeeping problem is now the opposite of what some predicted a year ago. Instead of a dearth, he has an embarrassment of riches.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.