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The coach of the World Cup favourites still has selection issues to resolve

With just under 100 days to go until Brazil’s 2010 World Cup gets under way against North Korea, coach Dunga stomped away from Emirates Stadium in London aware that, for at least half of it, that time will be dominated by appeals for the recall of Ronaldinho.

Brazil fans in the ground that night kept up a chant for the Milan man, but the intensity of the campaign will have been dampened slightly by the competence of the 2-0 win over the Republic of Ireland.

It was an even game until Brazil took the lead just before half-time, through an own goal from Keith Andrews that also had a strong hint of offside in the build-up, but they were in control after the interval and were rewarded when Robinho scored after combining well with Kaka and Grafite.

Had it remained a stalemate, the decibel count for Ronaldinho would have soared and Dunga’s patience strained still further. Brazil’s coach has found out – and there is surely a dose of naivety if he is genuinely surprised – that not everyone in the country shares his priorities. He was hoping for a pliant press, cheering his men on their way to the World Cup, but the media follow their own interests…which means the stoking of controversy.

The Brazilian press do not go in for private-life exposes of the type that have hit England’s build-up, but they do like to roll the bandwagon in favour of a rejected star – the stand-off, eight years ago, between striker Romario and coach Luiz Felipe Scolari is a classic of the genre. Now Ronaldinho is the favoured son, leaving Dunga fuming that he first has to beat opponents in Brazil before taking on the rest of the world.

Dreaded question
Only time will tell if Ronaldinho is definitively out of the World Cup. He has reacted far better to being left out than he did to being carried around in the squad for nearly three years, and Dunga may want to keep the pressure on until the last moment. The win over Ireland confirms that a place in the starting line-up is now highly unlikely, though he would surely be a useful option from the bench. Ronaldinho might also help supply an answer to the dreaded question that hangs over Brazil’s World Cup bid: what happens if Kaka gets injured?

The signs are, though, that Ronaldinho is out. Dunga recently gave an interview to Brazil’s powerful TV Globo where he argued that there was no need for new players in his squad, repeatedly stating: “Why do we need new players if ‘X’ came in and did well?” That ‘X’ was Julio Baptista, a loyal squad stalwart who is the most at risk from a Ronaldinho recall.

“Everyone had their chance,” said Dunga after the Ireland game.

“Everybody could show what they can do. Alexandre Pato [another controversial cast off] had his opportunities, Ronaldinho had the Olympics. Everyone had a chance with the national team.”

And many have taken it so well that Dunga’s team have accomplished everything that could possibly have been asked of them, winning the 2007 Copa America, last year’s Confederations Cup, finishing top of the South American World Cup qualification group and suffering just one defeat in 23 games since the start of the 2008-09 season – and even that was against Bolivia in the extreme altitude of La Paz.

Along the way several of his players have come under heavy fire – a while ago it was Gilberto Silva, more recently it has been Felipe Melo and Robinho. The more they are criticised, the more Dunga stands by them. They are vital members of the group he has constructed in the course of his three-and-a-half years in charge.

And now it seems as if the final, and most tricky, part of the jigsaw has been found.

Left-back has been the major problem position during Dunga’s reign. Six players featured there in qualification, none of them entirely convincing. More have been tried out since, with the latest of them, Michel Bastos, being given the full 90 minutes in each of the last three friendlies, against England and Oman last year, and now versus the Irish.

As a solution this is still not entirely satisfactory as Bastos is an attacking midfielder for Lyon.

It is years since he operated as a conventional left-back and his positional sense can be wayward.

Tactically, Brazil’s midfield trio are pulled to the right, freeing right-back Maicon to bomb forward. This can leave the left-back unprotected and Ireland managed a few dangerous breaks into this sector – suggesting that the left flank still promises to be Brazil’s biggest defensive headache in South Africa.

But for all Ireland’s early threat, and the bulk of possession they enjoyed before the interval, there was little for goalkeeper Julio Cesar to do as Juan and, especially, Lucio appeared to clear up the danger before the Irish strikers could get off a shot. The soundness of the central defensive combination – and of the keeper behind them, if required – is a huge asset as it allows the team to sit deep in safety, lure the opposition forward, then spring out with their devastating counter-attacks.

This was how they broke the deadlock against the Irish and it will terrify all their World Cup opponents.

The other deadlock-breaker is the set-piece, which could well end up provoking controversy in the World Cup. There will be plenty of attempts to draw opponents into fouls within range of goal and Kaka won a few fouls against the Irish in this way. It will not always be easy for referees in South Africa to decide whether or not there has been a dive or whether the contact was provoked by the attacker.

Then there are the corners and free-kicks crossed in for Brazil’s phalanx of giants to attack. The current Brazil side are huge, with enough good headers of the ball to threaten at the near post, the far and in-between – and they can usually count on the ball being delivered with admirable precision.

Blocking the zone
Ireland’s Italian coach, the veteran Giovanni Trapattoni, had clearly been doing his homework. One of the most interesting aspects of the friendly in London was the position taken up by the Irish defence for Brazil’s corners. Two green shirts were placed in front of the near post, around the point at which an outswinging cross starts to bend away from the goalkeeper. This is a space which Brazil’s giants love to attack. Blocking the zone considerably reduced their effectiveness from corners and it will be fascinating to see if North Korea, Ivory Coast and Portugal have been taking notes. Brazil, though, have the resources to come up with alternatives.

Strong from set-pieces, magnificent on the counter-attack and always capable of moments of dazzling individual brilliance, Dunga’s team can look laboured for passages of play.

However, the message from the Ireland game is that they will still be the team to beat in South Africa.

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