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Friday, June 26, 2009
Brazil huff and puff but will face USA

Derek Rae

Maybe it was the strident hum of the omnipresent Ellis Park vuvuzelas, but this was a Brazilian performance that missed several beats. So much for samba rhythm. In all fairness, Brazil were due a prosaic performance and there will be relief that they got this pedestrian effort out of the way before Sunday's Confederations Cup final meeting with the United States. That South Africa matched, indeed surpassed Brazil for chunks of the game was not something anyone anticipated. Such was the dearth of creative moves on offer from a team responsible for ten goals in three group games, you would have been excused for wondering if Dunga had made radical alterations. In fact the only switch was an enforced one with Luisao replacing the injured Juan, whose tournament is over. For most of this semi-final, Brazil huffed and puffed on the rutted Ellis Park playing surface. No one seemed to have the energy or even the inclination to change things. But then on 82 minutes, Dunga made the change that was to have a profound impact on the game's course. By replacing left-back Andre Santos with a naturally right-footed player in Dani Alves, the Brazilian boss could have been accused of placing a square peg in a round hole. Yet here was a player with a point to prove to his manager. Maicon's return from injury had relegated the swashbuckling Barcelona full-back to the bench. Looking fresh and motivated, Dani Alves ultimately fired home the free-kick with 2 minutes of normal time remaining that, rather harshly, consigned the gallant host nation to defeat. But while Dunga is entitled to take credit for the timely introduction of the Barca man, it's not unreasonable to ask why he didn't revitalise the team earlier. It's not fanciful to suggest that Elano and Alexandre Pato would have given more invention to the cause than the ineffectual Ramires and Robinho. Frankly if Brazil play as poorly as this on Sunday in Johannesburg, there's every chance the Americans will beat them just as Spain were sent packing. It's reasonable to anticipate a significant improvement from the men in yellow, however, although one can make a strong case for several changes. Elano, Pato and Dani Alves must all come into consideration. Will Dunga be bold enough to tinker? I have a feeling caution might take hold. It's instructive to look at the side he picked to beat the USA in Pretoria last week. In fact it was the same team that staggered over the finish line against Bafana Bafana, except in central defence where Miranda played and not Luisao. The Brazilians, unbeaten now in 15 games stretching back more than a year are often at their most uncomfortable when faced by teams who sit in. It perhaps explains why they have been more effective away than at home in the all-encompassing South American World Cup qualifying group. Under Dunga, they are geared to counter-attack their way to victory. We must remember that Emerson Leao lost his job following Brazil's failure to win the Confederations Cup in 2001, while Carlos Alberto Parreira held on to his, on the strength of the dazzling final victory over Argentina 4 years ago. Dunga knows he cannot afford to fail.

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