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The bench-warmer hoping to ease Liverpool FC worries over Pepe Reina absence

THE biggest danger Alexander Doni has faced so far this season has been splinters.

THE biggest danger Alexander Doni has faced so far this season has been splinters.

For every minute of the 42 matches Liverpool have played in all competitions the Brazilian has been warming the bench.

As week after week he patiently sat and watched, the experienced goalkeeper must have wondered if he would ever get the chance to take a bow for the Reds following his arrival from Roma on a free transfer last summer.

Being Pepe Reina’s understudy can be a lonely business. The likes of Jerzy Dudek, Scott Carson, Charlie Itandje, Diego Cavalieri, Peter Gulacsi and Brad Jones can vouch for that. However, in the aftermath of Sunday’s wretched 2-0 defeat at Newcastle United, Doni finds himself thrust into the spotlight.

Reina’s moment of madness as he angrily jabbed his head in the direction of James Perch has cost him a three-match ban. Suddenly, opportunity knocks for Doni with Reina’s run of 183 consecutive league appearances coming to an end.

The fact Liverpool had already used three subs meant there was no late cameo for him at St James’ Park but a Premier League debut awaits on Saturday when Aston Villa are the visitors to Anfield.

The 32-year-old will become the first keeper other than Reina to start a league game for Liverpool since May 13 2007.

Back then it was Daniele Padelli between the posts and the Italian rookie endured a nightmare in a 2-2 home draw with Charlton Athletic.

The on-loan Italy Under-21s shot-stopper was never seen at Anfield again as he was soon packed off back to Sampdoria.

With Reina’s suspension covering league games against Villa and Blackburn as well as the FA Cup semi-final with Everton at Wembley, there are some big gloves to fill.

As Liverpool bid to halt their worst sequence of league results since 1954 and restore some confidence ahead of that crunch showdown in the capital, Kenny Dalglish desperately needs Doni to slot in seamlessly.

It’s a big ask with the 6ft5ins shot-stopper untested in English football – but he’s no rookie.

Born in Sao Paulo, Donieber Alexander Marangon to give him his full name, began his career in his homeland with Botafogo-SP and then moved to Corinthians in 2001.

He helped them clinch the Brazilian Cup and the Sao Paulo State Championship before spells with Santos, Cruzeiro and Juventude.

In August 2005 the keeper, who has an Italian passport, made the switch to Europe as Roma signed him as back-up to Gianluca Curci.

Doni swiftly established himself as first choice and was rewarded with a new, improved contract. The Serie A title narrowly eluded him but they won the Coppa Italia in 2007 and 2008.

In the summer of 2007 his progress was recognised when he made his debut for Brazil in a friendly against Turkey in Germany.

Doni went on to play a starring role in their Copa America triumph, including two penalty saves in their semi-final victory over Uruguay. In total he has earned 10 international caps.

Midway through the 2008/09 season he lost his place in the Roma team after a crushing 4-1 defeat to Juventus and then a knee injury prolonged his absence.

With fellow Brazilians Artur and Julio Sergio for competition, Doni found his chances increasingly limited.

He still made 16 league appearances last season to take his overall tally for Roma to 179 in six years but with no guarantee of first team football he decided to seek a new challenge and Roma agreed to let him go.

Last July he became the second Brazilian keeper to sign for the Reds as he followed in the footsteps of Cavalieri, who played 10 times between 2008 and 2010.

Doni joined compatriots Lucas Leiva and Fabio Aurelio at Anfield with director of football Damien Comolli insisting he possessed all the attributes required to be a success in England.

“We are getting a very experienced goalkeeper who is used to handling the pressure of big games and international matches with Brazil,” Comolli said.

“I spoke to Lucas and he was very complimentary about him as a person and as a goalkeeper so I think it’s a great deal for us. He is suited to English football. He is big and good in the air and his distribution is quick as well.

“When you play for Roma for years and years, the pressure at that club in that city is tremendous, so the fact he can handle that shows he can take anything.”

Unveiled at Melwood in August on the same day as fellow new boys Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson last August, Doni barely received a second glance from the waiting media.

However, he did reveal that former Reds full-back John Arne Riise, who he played alongside at Roma, had helped convince him Liverpool was the right move.

“I spoke a lot about Liverpool with John and he told me what a special club it was,” said Doni. “He spoke about the supporters, the way Liverpool play and this is a very big challenge for me.

“I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to come to the Premier League, especially signing for Liverpool which is a huge club in Europe. When I am called upon I know I have to be ready.”

When Doni went on to talk about how he couldn’t wait for his first experience of playing in a Merseyside derby it seemed like wishful thinking.

But, remarkably, that dream is set to become a reality under the giant arch at Wembley.

Doni won’t be joining the likes of Michael Stensgaard, Tony Warner and Martin Hansen on the list of Liverpool keepers who departed without making a competitive appearance.

He will have more to show for his efforts than 57 minutes in the 1-0 friendly defeat to Rangers at Ibrox last October when a string of fine stops kept the score down. After so long in the shadows, Doni’s time has come.

 

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