The friendly victory over Italy was a welcome boost for the national side ahead of challenging World Cup qualifiers.

Tim Vickery in Rio de Janeiro

This month’s friendly in London against Italy came at an awkward time for the Brazil camp. While they were in town, Luiz Felipe Scolari was sacked by Chelsea. Current national team coach Dunga would almost certainly not have been offered the job in 2006 had Scolari been available.

From the same region of Brazil and with the same, blunt, team-before-stars approach, Dunga was seen as a poor man’s Big Phil. Some thought of him as a short term stand-in. ‘Watch out Dunga, Scolari’s free’ was the headline in one Brazilian paper.

So on the back of November’s 6-1 thrashing of an alarmingly naive Portugal, beating Italy 2-0 at the Emirates must have come as a boost to Dunga’s morale.

The real test, though, comes in the competitive matches. World Cup qualification resumes at the end of March, when Brazil face a tricky trip up the Andes to face Ecuador in Quito, where they were beaten in the previous two campaigns. There is little that Dunga can do to prepare his team for altitude. Three days later, though, Brazil are at home to Peru – and here a convincing win will be expected.

Dunga’s men have been held to goalless draws in their last three home World Cup qualifiers. This is no disgrace against Argentina, but unacceptable against Bolivia and unimpressive against Colombia.

It has brought into sharp focus the defects of the current side. When results are disappointing the nationalist local press generally turns on the foreign based players – they are mercenaries who don’t care about Brazil, and so on. The Olympics put a stop to that one – some of the squad defied their clubs to take part, and Brazil still lost.

The next attack is based on the team’s mental approach. They played badly because their attitude was wrong. Recent results have made this one hard to sustain as well. Three days before being held at home by Bolivia, they won 3-0 away to Chile. The same happened before the goalless draw at home to Colombia – a 4-0 win in Venezuela. Their attitude was perfect on the Sunday but deficient on the Wednesday? Clearly there was something deeper, something more intrinsically to do with football.

Events on the field had made it obvious that Brazil could count on one of the most devastating counter-attacks in the world game, but were labouring ineffectively to break down opponents who adopted a cautious approach. The most depressing aspect of their home form is that Brazil have not looked like scoring.

This is unlikely to jeopardise their qualification for South Africa, but will damage their chances of winning the tournament, since World Cup opponents are unlikely to be so naive as to leave themselves open to the Brazilian counter.

Against Italy, then, Dunga responded by giving powerful right-back Maicon complete freedom to push forward. Maicon had effectively decided the outcome of November’s match against Portugal, who had enjoyed most of the first half play although they were trailing 2-1. After the break when Cristiano Ronaldo moved infield suddenly Maicon was free with acres of space in front of him and 2-1 almost immediately became 4-1.

Now, against Italy to take advantage of his surges Gilberto Silva often dropped to cover like a third centre back, while the versatility of Elano was also highlighted. He had to work back and cover, while also drifting infield in attack to profit from the space Maicon was creating.

It worked beautifully, with Elano scoring the opening goal – though things might have been different had Fabio Grosso’s early strike not been incorrectly ruled out for offside, when he burst past Elano to latch on to a wonderful Andrea Pirlo through ball.

Ronaldinho played the 90 minutes, but with this system it is hard to see how he can be included in the starting line-up if everyone is fit. With Gilberto Silva dropping and Elano working the right, there must be another specialist midfielder to hold the centre and push left. Against Italy it was Felipe Melo. Anderson and Hernanes are other strong candidates. It leaves two places for the trio of Kaka, Robinho and Ronaldinho – and that is surely the pecking order at present.

Dunga, of course, could decide to go back to 4-2-3-1 and field them all against Peru on April 1. The opponents are bottom of the table, and have lost all five away games, with goal difference of 1-17. The match is in Dunga’s home territory of Porto Alegre.

Whatever formation they play, if Brazil fail to score this time it will look like an April Fool’s joke.