Wednesday, July 1, 2009
What Dunga has done for Brazil
Another final, another trophy. They make it look simple. Brazil, though, is fully aware its seleção still has work to do. Whilst the world looked on in disbelief as the United States of America took a 2-0 lead into half-time of the Confederations Cup final, the knives were already being sharpened for Dunga across the nation's sports websites. What a difference forty-five minutes makes.
What a difference nine months makes, for that matter. Only last September I was wondering, on this site, whether Dunga would be sacked before then-Argentina manager Alfio Basile. Brazil's faith in Dunga has been repaid with the discovery of some consistency after a dreadful start to the year (a World Cup qualifier away to Ecuador which they were fortunate to come away from with a 1-1 draw). Brazil now sit in a position they're well accustomed to: top of the South American World Cup qualifying group, and flying back to Rio de Janeiro with a shiny gold trophy.
Criticism of Dunga is based on what the Brazilian press want from their team, but at times it's been Monty Python-esque in its excitability. The 2007 Copa América saw the team barely turn up - until they dismantled Argentina in the final - and until 2009 arrived, performances in World Cup qualification were mixed - but they were still on course, and have now all but assured their participation in South Africa next year.
The language of the press has changed to an extent. The desire for more attractive football is still present but they're talking too about the positives Dunga has brought: discipline and a certain determination, and above all, unity.
'The proof [of that unity] is the trophy,' midfielder Ramires declared when the squad landed in Rio on Monday. 'There's nothing more - the rest is just talk. We've won the title because we're all united.' And as Sunday's celebrations demonstrated, they're certainly united. They also demonstrated in June, just in case anyone had managed to miss it thus far, that defending world champions Italy look far from the same team that won the World Cup in 2006.
How the World Cup's longer format will pan out - the Confederations Cup is, after all, only two rounds after the group stage - is anyone's guess, but forget 2006; Brazil could be a good bet this time. The years when they were the great entertainers are gone but the unity Ramires talks about is very real. It's also allied to the trophy-winning know-how and experience which Brazil, more than any other nation in world football, has in spades.
Unity was something distinctly lacking in the shambles of the 2006 World Cup, and it's now clear Dunga was right in deciding that rather than trying to fit Ronaldinho, Kaká, Adriano and Ronaldo (the infamous 'Magic Quartet') into one team, he'd drop two of them and tell one of the others to get his act together. That took guts at the helm of a country which still wants a large element of fantasy in its football, but the man who captained the 'ugliest' Brazil team in living memory to the 1994 World Cup has more authority than anyone else to point out that all the backheels and tricks in the world will still get him sacked if he doesn't deliver trophies.
That focus, the drive of the boss and above all the team spirit he's inculcated, is what leads me to suggest that, for all the talk of Spain as favourites (and that surely doesn't change just because they lose one match to another team in the top 20 of FIFA's rankings) and for all the recognition that Brazilian football has lost much of its distinct and joyful identity, they still know how to win and - as they demonstrated on Sunday - if there's a trophy at stake, you can never write them off. Their next match will go some way to showing us how much they've come on since the struggles of 2008, though.
It's a World Cup qualifier in Argentina, and however bad Argentina's form might be (and the 2-0 loss in Ecuador disguised the fact that the performance was actually pretty good), they don't lose World Cup qualifiers at home. Diego Maradona, who talks a lot about getting his team to play an attack-minded game, would rather put out a goalkeeper and ten defenders than lose a home qualifier for only the second time in Argentina's history (of course, he'd have to find ten half-decent Argentine defenders first).
In spite of the optimistic majority, the Brazilian press aren't all happy with Dunga. One complaint - that no team has yet won the Confederations Cup and followed it with the World Cup trophy twelve months later - seems a little daft. What did they want him to do with the last couple of weeks? They nicely avoid the fact that, had Brazil failed to get out of the group stage, or lost either of their knockout matches against South Africa and the United States, Dunga would have been hounded out of his job.
That superstitious stat has been quoted because there are sections of the Brazilian media who (though they'll never admit it) would like to see the boss fail, to get another chance to stick the knife into a manager who's always denied their right to pick the team and dictate the tactics.
After all, apart from the 2007 Copa América, the 2009 Confederations Cup and comfortable qualification for the World Cup, apart from making a side who were a fiasco in Germany 2006 come together as a winning team at last, what has Dunga ever done for Brazil?