Brazilians expect nothing less than another success for the Selecao – and they want it with style too
Having won their five World Cups in Europe (1958), South America (1962), North America (1970 and 1994) and Asia (2002), Brazil now need Africa to complete the set, and they travel to the continent’s first World Cup understandably confident and justifiably seen as being among the favourites.
Many thought that debutant coach Dunga was nothing but a stopgap when he was appointed after Germany 2006; a short-term shock response to the perceived excesses of the big stars in that disappointing campaign. Indeed, in his first two years in charge there were moments when his position seemed highly vulnerable.
However, his team’s record over the subsequent two years makes impressive reading, with just one defeat in 24 games – and that away to Bolivia at the extreme altitude of La Paz. In addition to victory at the Copa America in 2007, his side also won last year’s Confederations Cup in South Africa and finished top of South America’s gruelling World Cup qualification group.
Dunga has proved his leadership capabilities over this period, welding his players into a cohesive force despite the limited time they are available to the national team coach. His team look physically and mentally strong, and seem to possess a clear tactical idea of what they are trying to achieve. As a result, the home public expect nothing less than a sixth tournament triumph in Johannesburg on July 11.
This being Brazil, though, merely winning is not always seen as good enough. Dunga has suggested that the demand for expansive, attractive football is all part of a European plot to ensure that Brazil are beaten. He has even dismissed the calls from home for more flair players as a media agenda to stir up trouble in order to boost circulation and TV ratings.
This style debate – with the focus not just on whether Brazil win, but how they win – is not going to go away. Devastating on the counter-attack and with a superb array of set-piece variations, Dunga’s team has no lack of individual skill and technical excellence.
But it is essentially a pragmatic side. In the centre of midfield, where once the Selecao had Zito and Didi, Clodoaldo and Gerson, Falcao and Cerezo, they now they have Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo – big and strong, a formidable physical block, but with none of the elaborate passing skills of their predecessors.
Dunga’s line-up runs the risk of all pragmatists: the methods will be praised if they succeed, but, should they lose, his side will receive none of the affection still felt, for example, for the 1982 team.
The battle lines are drawn, then, for what could be a strained relationship during the tournament between the Brazilian media and the national coach. Dunga admits that his voice can take on an unpleasant tone when he is defending himself and his players, and the Brazil camp may not be a place for the faint-hearted as Dunga’s men go in search of a sixth title.
And if the pursuit proves unsuccessful, there will be plenty ready to twist the knife into the man whose nickname comes from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
But to think Dunga is “Dopey” is a clear case of miscasting; he should be “Angry” – and the fire that he breathes into his men may mean he may not have moulded the most attractive side in the history of the Selecao , but it will take a good and a brave one to beat them.
The view from Brazil
“We’re not going to the World Cup with Brazil’s best coach. This one isn’t even a coach – why he was put there, no one knows, especially when we have good ones working at home and abroad. We had problems in qualifying and though beating Argentina appeared to solve everything, it’s not the truth of this team. I think we’ll have problems. Let’s just hope Kaka can play. If he’s not 100 per cent – and without Ronaldinho because of the stubbornness of the coaching staff – then it will be complicated.”
Gerson, a World Cup winner in 1970
“I’m not wild about the style of play. I’d prefer one more attacking midfielder and one less defensive midfielder. But the defence is solid, the strikers are good and we’re right there among the favourites. But, as always, it all depends on who comes good at the right time.”
Telmo Zanini, senior journalist at SporTV