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May 12, 2010

Squad selections aplenty

When Brazil began their campaign at the 2006 World Cup, their hopes rested on Carlos Alberto Parreira's 'magic square' of Ronaldo, Adriano, Ronaldinho and Kaka. On Tuesday, it was confirmed that all but one of the quartet have done a disappearing act ahead of the finals in South Africa, including that most exciting of conjurers, Ronaldinho.

APRonaldinho won't make the final squad.

As all 32 teams delivered their squad lists to FIFA headquarters throughout a hectic day, a number of leading figures fell victim to age, loss of form or controversy. Ruud van Nistelrooy and Francesco Totti were not beckoned in from the international wilderness, while Raymond Domenech was ruthless in his culling of Karim Benzema and Patrick Vieira from the France selection. But in refusing to bow to reputation, or public pressure, Dunga proved as every bit as obdurate as he did in his days anchoring the Brazil midfield.

True to his word, the head coach refused to consider a return for Ronaldinho despite his improved form in Serie A, so the 2002 world champion, a unique and beguiling talent, will be absent. The absence of World Cup record goalscorer Ronaldo may have been no surprise, but ignoring the claims of Adriano, who started the 2-0 victory over Republic of Ireland in March, in favour of the man who replaced him as a substitute at Emirates Stadium, Wolfsburg's Grafite, was somewhat unexpected given his good form for Flamengo.

Indeed, Brazil's Joga Bonito reputation could be on course to take a bit of a battering. Absent too are Ronaldinho's talented club colleague Alexandre Pato and Juventus playmaker Diego, with Dunga largely sticking with the players that secured qualification - meaning exciting Santos talents Neymar and Paulo Henrique also miss out. It is an uncompromising selection that the head coach will not apologise for.

"I hear that Ronaldinho never got to play in the national team in the position that he played for Barcelona - not with any coach," Dunga said. "Everyone had their chance. Ronaldinho's quality and capacity are beyond question, but I have to make decisions based on what happened on the pitch for the national team."

Brazil's 23-man squad may be lacking some high-profile names, but having put team spirit and work ethic at the heart of his plans for the Seleção, to good effect, Dunga was not going to compromise all that he had constructed in order to indulge individual talents. From the magic square to square pegs in round holes.

CAPELLO CALLS ON CARRA

Minor controversies surrounding ill-advised websites aside, Fabio Capello's squad announcement was somewhat less explosive than many had anticipated. Fevered reports on Tuesday morning had claimed Owen Hargreaves would be included - despite playing 30 seconds of football in 20 months - along with the likes of Bobby Zamora and Paul Scholes, should he join Jamie Carragher in reversing his international retirement. We were led to believe that everything we knew about Capello was to evaporate; that he would display a flexibility and recklessness not evident before. That did not fully materialise and there was no Theo Walcott moment, though Capello admitted he "tried" to talk Scholes round, and did call on the likes of Michael Dawson, Adam Johnson and Tom Huddlestone.

Instead the inclusion of Carragher, a man who once said that representing England did not mean as much to him as playing for Liverpool, was the headline development. The news seems slightly bizarre given Carragher had grown frustrated at his role as a utility reserve before withdrawing his services at international level, while that is precisely the role he can expect to fulfil in South Africa. Capello is adamant the Liverpool vice-captain has not been guaranteed a place in the squad - saying "he is one of the 30 players. During the training camp I will evaluate the performance of each player, after that I will decide" - but it would be a touch embarrassing for Carragher should he be left at home now, surely forcing him into retirement once again.

Marc Planus and Bafetimbi Gomis clash
GettyImages / PierreAndrieuMarc Planus dives in on Bafetimbi Gomis.

PLAYER IN FOCUS: Marc Planus

With the French media speculating as to who would be this tournament's Pascal Chimbonda - the defender who was a shock inclusion for the 2006 finals - Raymond Domenech's 30-man France squad contained all manner of surprises when he announced it live on television on Tuesday night. There was no place for Patrick Vieira, proud owner of 107 caps, nor 35 million euro striker Karim Benzema, while Djibril Cisse, Mathieu Valbuena and Rennes midfielder Yann M'Vila were all shock inclusions.

Also a surprise was the decision to call on Bordeaux defender Planus, who at 28 years of age has earned his first taste of international football. Bordeaux's shocking form in the second half of the season has clearly not affected the reputation of Planus, who has been one of Ligue 1's best defenders over the past two seasons. Chimbonda made just one appearance before fading away from the international scene, but if Planus can make the cut and go to the World Cup, he will hope to have more longevity.

WORLD CUP QUOTE OF THE WEEK

South Africa midfielder Steven Pienaar perfectly sums up the growing excitement with the finals now firmly on the horizon. "I think it will be a really special moment," Pienaar told the BBC. "Not only for the players, but for all South Africa and the whole continent, because it is going to be a day of history, like when Nelson Mandela came out of prison. For us, it is special because it is the first World Cup on African soil. We're going to make history."