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Focus on Brazil

Dunga's choices baffle Brazilian public

June 14, 2010
By Ernesto Garrido

The announcement to allow Brazilian employees time off from their day jobs to watch the country's World Cup matches, gives an insight into the extent to which Brazil lives the World Cup. Most corporations reach this type of agreement with the unions, and the smaller companies gladly follow suit.

GettyImagesSome of coach Dunga's decision have been criticised in the media.

There's no way to avoid the tournament. A sizeable number of Brazilians, mostly casual football fans during the domestic season, become passionate supporters once every four years.

"The national football team is unique for us, especially during the World Cup", says Vinicius, a creative designer and Sao Paulo FC supporter that rarely knows how his club are doing in the national tournament. "That is why the whole country stops to watch every match. Over the years the Cup has become a question of national pride".

Every Brazilian has his or her own choice of players for the national team, amounting to almost 200 million different line-ups. And while over the last few World Cups, controversies about specific players who didn't make the final squad - Romario in 2002 for example - have been the norm, this year's selection by coach Dunga has created the highest level of criticism.

"Up to now, I sided with Dunga in his fights with the press states Marcelo, a marketing manager based in Rio de Janeiro, "but now I think he's just being inflexible".

No one can possibly claim to be surprised by the names in the squad, as they are all consistent with Dunga's choices during his tenure as the head of the Selecao. But many fans and journalists had hoped for the addition of at least a couple of players able to increase the creative thinking of the side.

However, the coach decided to stick to his guns, showing the same instinct that took Brazil to victories in the 2007 Copa America and the 2009 Confederations Cup, the two tournaments the squad has played since he took the job.

And his recipe for success, even though distant from the traditional Brazilian approach to football, is well understood by everyone in the country: an extremely consistent defensive structure, a lightning quick counter attack, and a fearsome ability to score from set pieces.

Dunga's list of players coupled those skills with his unbreakable sense of loyalty to the group of men who have been there for him during almost four years, in some cases regardless of their current level of form.

Only this sense of loyalty can explain the selections of Felipe Melo - winner of the Italian's Serie A's Bidone D'oro award as the worst player in the league last season - Julio Baptista and Doni, who wasn't even making the Roma bench last season. The only exception to Dunga's faithfulness was striker Adriano, one of his favourite players whose off field exploits, too many and too serious to be overlooked, ended up costing him his place in the squad.

Dunga's perseverance with the current squad and decision to leave in-form players out is what created the biggest uproar among fans, especially around the offensive midfielder positions.

The current team structure revolves around one player, Kaka, the Brazilian player responsible for connecting defence and attack. After a disappointing season, the Real Madrid star only recently came back from injury, and being clearly well below his best form, some alternatives were discussed before Dunga published the final list: Ronaldinho, who had a strong second half to the season, and Paulo Henrique Ganso, an extremely talented Santos youngster who impressed at the beginning of the year, were both excellent options to fill in for Kaka if required.

But Dunga chose to keep the core of the team intact, leaving both of them out of the chosen 23. "Ganso has only played well for two months", Dunga said about the in-form youngster, "I already know what Ronaldinho can bring to the team, but I believe we have better options now." During the friendly matches before the Cup, he has used Julio Baptista as Kaka's replacement, which worked against Zimbabwe and Tanzania, but might not be such a good idea when facing tougher opposition.

GettyImagesRobinho is hoping to attract interest at the World Cup

"This Brazilian team has one only game changer, and he's not fully fit" says Rogerio, a cab driver. "Can you remember this happening before in a World Cup? What happens if Kaka does not get back in shape for the Ivory Coast match?"

Indeed, Dunga and company can't afford any mistakes during the group phase, as luck wasn't kind to the Brazilians in the World Cup draw. If they don't end up winning their group, they're likely to cross paths with favourites Spain in the second round.

"No worries, we fear no team", says sales promoter Juliana, another casual fan lured by the fascination that this tournament exerts over Brazilians, "The World Cup is ours" she sings, quoting the lyrics of an old Brazilian song written to celebrate the country's first title, back in 1958. But, despite all the question marks surrounding the squad and his coach, it may very well be the case once again.