Brazil's World Cup worries
Friday 11 September ~
"I'm happy. You may not believe it but I'm really happy," beamed Brazilian coach Dunga following his side's 4-2 win over Chile in Salvador on Wednesday night. Dunga, unlike his Argentine counterpart Diego Maradona, should have reasons to be cheerful. World Cup qualification was guaranteed by Brazil's dismissive defeat of Argentina last weekend and his team are the current Copa America and Confederations Cup holders. But Dunga rarely seems happier than when he is locked in battle with his country's demanding fans and press corps – and neither side is contemplating a truce in the conflict.
After Wednesday's entertaining win by a makeshift Brazil depleted by suspension Dunga waded in: "Everyone talked beforehand about what would happen if Brazil lost this game." Prior to that comment he had bristled at the suggestion that he would allow his players to party all the way from Rosario to Salvador. And for good measure he responded to jeering fans in Salvador with a one-fingered salute. But look beyond the saunter to South Africa and Dunga may indeed have more cause for concern.
Brazil have turned into a counter-attacking team that is at its best when the opposition throws caution to the wind, as Argentina and Chile both did. Last year they looked much less impressive in home draws against Bolivia and Colombia. The Brazilians' toothless approach in those games, along with defeat by Paraguay, suggested Dunga's days in the post were numbered. His game plan is dependent on dynamic bursts from Kaka, the dribbling of Robinho and goals from the now talismanic Luís Fabiano. More importantly, it requires the opposition to play expansively as Argentina did last weekend. When they don't and Brazil have to set the pace even Estonia look difficult to break down.
Containing euphoria amongst his squad promises to be an immediate task for Dunga. Juventus midfielder Felipe Melo almost undid all of his good work with an appallingly petulant display in Salvador. With a nonchalant flick reminiscent of Brazil circa 1970 or 1982 he almost gifted Chile a goal. To compound matters he tripped Alexis Sánchez to concede a penalty, then lunged a foot into the groin of the same player. Commenting later on his red card Melo told reporters that "it's a man's game". Not even Dunga in terrier mode would have countenanced a challenge like that – even less to try to justify it. At left-back André Santos absented himself from marking duties and was unconvincing coming forward. Indeed, his general performance suggested that Brazilian full-back play has not moved on from the moment that Roberto Carlos was caught twiddling with his socks against France in the 2006 World Cup quarter-final. Kleber, Marcelo and others may still have a chance to compete for this vacancy.
Dunga's loyalty to players may be an important ingredient in building team spirit but persistence with the likes of Gilberto Silva and Josué looks like stubbornness above and beyond the call of duty. Meanwhile, the coach's selection of Ronaldinho and most recently Adriano seems to contradict his own philosophy. Despite scoring freely, Adriano is barely fit enough to last 90 minutes in a Brazilian championship game with Flamengo. For international football he is simply out of condition.
Off the field Dunga also has challenges to face and ones that are likely to try his patience. In the build-up to the Argentina game he was moved to complain about "the circus" surrounding training sessions at the national training centre in Teresópolis. Satirical TV crews and sponsors' marquees all contributed to an ambience that looked like Brazil's notoriously open Swiss training camp at the 2006 World Cup. Despite his successful tenure so far, this week's events suggest that Dunga has plenty more problems to overcome – but Brazil's moody coach might at least crack a smile occasionally, even if only to annoy his critics. Robert Shaw
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