Dunga’s Brazil appear to have put their troubles behind them and look on course for early qualification for the 2010 finals.
By Tim Vickery in Rio de Janeiro
Brazil were booed off the field by their own crowd in June last year after having the worst of a goalless draw in the World Cup qualifier at home to Argentina.
It rounded off a miserable month for coach Dunga and his men – preceding it were a scratchy win over Canada and a historic first ever loss to Venezuela in friendlies in the US, followed by a convincing 2-0 defeat in World Cup qualification away to a Paraguay side that played almost half the game with ten men.
And there was no immediate improvement after the boos in Belo Horizonte. The quest to win Brazil’s first Olympic football gold ended with a 3-0 drubbing by Argentina in the semi final. Dunga was under pressure, and may only have been saved by the lack of time to get a new man in before the resumption of the 2010 qualifiers.
It all looks very different now as Brazil prepare for the return match with Argentina. At senior level, that 0-0 draw last June stands as the first match in an unbeaten run that now stretches to 17 games, the last nine of them victories. It is a run which has taken the team to the top of the qualification table, all but certainly a single win away from confirming their place in South Africa. It has brought them the Confederations Cup, and barring developments unforeseen and unforeseeable, has ensured that Dunga will be the man in charge next June.
In the course of their successful streak the team has clearly established its identity and style of play, with its lightning counter-attacks and superb variety of set pieces. The composition of the squad also looks settled, with Dunga loyal to a core of players.
But a couple of places are still up for grabs, as was made clear by the make up of the squad for the games away to Argentina and at home to Chile.
One is left back, with Filipe of La Coruna brought in from the cold to challenge Andre Santos. The other is the reserve to free scoring lone striker Luis Fabiano. Back in action and getting on the scoresheet frequently for Flamengo, Adriano has been recalled.
Alexandre Pato’s exclusion – he was also left out of the squad which faced Estonia in August – seems like another case of tough love from Dunga. Rather like his Milan clubmate Ronaldinho, Pato is being told to shape up and ensure that potential is turned into reality. The pair of them, along with centre back Thiago Silva, go into a high stakes season in Italy.
Adriano replaces Diego Tardelli of Atletico Mineiro, who was given a brief opportunity against Estonia. The injury picked up by midfielder Kleberson in that game has created the opportunity for a recall for Lucas, getting more playing time at Liverpool this season. The only other change is of reserve goalkeeper, the injured Gomes substituted by Victor of Gremio, who was in the Confederations Cup squad.
It is a serene and settled Brazil, then, that embark on the visit to Argentina with the pressure all on the hosts. A win should take Diego Maradona’s men close to qualification. Defeat will leave them struggling. Brazil should be fine either way.
But Dunga is aware that there is no room for complacency. Four years ago Carlos Alberto Parreira’s side were building towards Germany 06 with a settled side, leading South America’s qualification table and having claimed the Confederations Cup. History, though, judges them on their poor displays in the World Cup, and Dunga knows that, however long its unbeaten run, the definitive verdict on his side will be made in South Africa next year.