Road to South Africa
The tournament’s ever presents reached South Africa with three games to spare as they secured a sweet victory on Argentine soil in Rosario to make sure of their place in South Africa. Dunga successfully implemented a no-nonsense approach to international football and axed many of Brazil’s star names in favour of building a more cohesive unit.
With only two defeats along the way Brazil’s route to the 2010 World Cup finals was always a procession. Although Dunga has been roundly criticised for taking much of the natural flair out of the Selecao the team still finished up top scorers in the CONMEBOL qualification series.
There were many memorable moments along the way in Brazil’s qualification for South Africa including their lifting of an old hoodoo with a thumping 4-0 win away to Uruguay and Luis Fabiano’s nine goals signalling his arrival as the real deal in front of goal. Brazil were also able to take some time away from qualifying to win the Confederations Cup and have a good look at the conditions they can expect when they return to South Africa for the World Cup.
Things seemed to be going so well for Brazil when North Korea popped out as their first Group G opponents. Events took a turn for the worse however when the Ivory Coast and Portugal completed the line-up. Brazil have had some easy groups in the past but they will have to start early in South Africa if they don’t want to suffer an embarrassingly early exit.
Thankfully for fans of Brazil after nearly four years in the job Dunga has a well oiled machine at his disposal which trusts him enough to follow his instructions down to the letter. The World Cup winning captain of USA 94 knows what he wants from his team and has a way of getting his point across which has translated into the right results on the pitch.
Júlio César of Inter Milan is widely recognised as the best goalkeeper in the world right now and a string of near faultless displays have made him a shoe-in to wear the gloves for Brazil in South Africa.
The Brazilian defence houses one of the side’s most potent attacking forces. Júlio César’s team-mate at the San Siro Maicon is as close to you get to the complete footballer. His surging runs from right-back can frighten the life out of the opposition as he seems to be able to gallivant at will through anything thrown in his path. Alongside Maicon are the duel colossuses of Lucio and Luisão, as well as being assured in defence these two are also a real threat from set-pieces. The left-back position remains up for grabs but due to Maicon’s influence on the team his counterpart on the other side of the pitch is often asked to tuck in and provide protection.
The point which has the purists knocking Dunga is his unfaltering selection of Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo in the middle of the park. This duo offer little in the way of creativity but both can play the hatchetman role with unerring ease. Elano is able to cover Maicon on the right side of midfield while Robinho is encouraged to roam from his starting post on the left. In the middle they have Kaká whose growing understanding with Luis Fabiano usually translates itself into goals.
They sound fairly decent don’t they? Well, they are Brazil after all.
Key Player: Kaká
If you looked closely enough you will have seen Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite with his hands on the World Cup once already. As a 20-year-old he travelled to the Far East as part of Brazil’s World Cup winning squad of 2002 but only got on the pitch for 25 minutes against Costa Rica.
Since then he has fought his way to becoming the star man of the Brazilian set-up and owner of the much coveted number 10 shirt. Despite already being a regular in the team during the 2006 World Cup it was the appointment of Dunga which saw Kaká’s stock rise within the Selecao camp. With Kaká’s devotion to religion and family he was seen as the antithesis of the partying antics of Ronaldo and co which was identified as the root of Brazil’s poor performance in Germany.
With Kaká’s ability however he needs few favours or special treatment from managers, just the opportunity to take the field and do what he does best. His most recent moment of magic in the yellow of Brazil was a pin point throughball to Luis Fabiano for Brazil’s third against Argentina in the game which sealed their passage to South Africa. The pass was a carbon copy of his ball for Hernan Crespo in the 2005 Champions League final. If you miss a piece of sublime skill from Kaká don’t worry, he’s bound to do it again sooner or later.
One To Watch: Nilmar
Nilmar Honorato da Silva is very highly rated in his homeland after two prolific spells with Internacional. He first left Brazil aged 19 to play for Lyon but it was clearly a step to soon for the youngster as he struggled to get to grips with the French League. He returned to Brazil and the goals starting coming again, it was Villarreal who were brave enough to give the player a second chance in Europe.
Nilmar is currently in the process of repaying the Spanish outfit for the faith that they showed in him and his goals have seen him on the fringes of the Brazilian set-up. The one thing he has done whenever he has played for Brazil is looked dangerous and his international tally of eight goals in nine games certainly supports this.
He recently scored back-to-back goals in friendlies against England and Oman, anyone who saw his headed goal against the English will recognise this is a player not afraid to improvise. Nilmar plays on the shoulder of defenders, waits his moment and relies on his electric pace to take him away from his marker.
The only trouble for the 25-year-old is that he must get himself ahead of a long list of strikers including Diego Tardelli, Adriano, Alexandre Pato and O Fenômeno himself, Ronaldo, if he is to make it to South Africa.
Results-wise things could not have gone much better for Dunga in the World Cup winner’s first management position. He has already started adding to Brazil’s overstacked trophy cabinet with victories in both the 2007 Copa América and the 2009 Confederations Cup. His only defeat at tournament level came during 2008 Olympic’s but he soon got revenge on Argentina by beating them 3-1 in their own backyard.
In fact Dunga is a man who takes defeat personally and after Portugal inflicted the first loss of his time in charge he masterminded a 6-2 demolition of the same opponents next time they played. He will no doubt be plotting something similar for when the two teams meet again in South Africa.
Dunga has interpreted his no-nonsense playing style into his role as manager. He inherited a side dominated by the Magic Quartet of Ronaldinho, Kaká, Adriano and Ronaldo. Dunga soon showed that nobody had a guaranteed place in the side and four years later it is only Kaká who is certain to feature if fit when Brazil play in South Africa.
These days you are just as likely to see flair in the dugout as on the pitch as Dunga continues to wear unusual matchday attire courtesy of his fashion designer daughter.
Recent Previous Tournaments
France 1998: Runner-up
South Korea/Japan 2002: Winner
Germany 2006: Quarter-finals
As always Brazil has all the tools required to win the World Cup, they already have five triumphs to their name and of course a sixth in South Africa is not out of the question.
The Selecao have been on the top of their game for four years now under Dunga and are yet to play a game under their current boss where they looked overly suspect in any department. Personally though I just cannot see it being their year in South Africa.
I worry about the squad having to wait so long before taking the field for their first game and I worry about the possibility of an early meeting with Spain. I worry that they have looked so good since the end of the last World Cup that they will not know what to do when they find themselves up against it. I also worry that Dunga does not play Jugo Bonito and there are so many back home looking for the opportunity to get at him for taking the joy out of the Brazilian game.
Nobody will be asking for a game against the Selecao in South Africa but as the Brazilians say themselves, “The only team who can beat us is ourselves.”
World Cup 2010 squad
© Tim Sturtridge & Soccerphile.com