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Focus on Brazil

The calm after the storm

July 1, 2010
By Ernesto Garrido
(Archive)

There's nothing like a convincing win to improve the atmosphere of a team and their relationship with the media. Brazil's impressive defeat of Chile last Monday brought the controversy surrounding the camp one level down, and the squad has just spent the most peaceful week since their first training session together, well before World Cup started.

Kaka and Dunga
GettyImagesKaka is key to Dunga's hopes.

Former national team coach Luiz Felipe Scolari had already requested a cease-fire between current boss Dunga and the Brazilian media before the encounter against Chile. ''All this nonsense is doing no good to our team, we all should stop arguing and focus on supporting Brazil'', he stated last week. But it was the side's close-to-perfect display on the pitch that had the desired effect.

The performance by the five-time World Champions against Bielsa's team appeared taken out of Dunga's textbook: asphyxiating pressure in midfield, complete dominance of set pieces - including Juan's goal from a corner kick - and lightning fast counter-attack, with Robinho and Kaka looking their best so far.

''This squad depends on Robinho and Kaka for our classic flair to make the difference," said Brazilian legend Tostao. ''And we desperately need them to show up against Holland.''

By their own right, Netherlands have become a classic World Cup rival for Brazil. Following a 2-0 defeat against Johan Cruyff's side in 1974, the most recent contests between both countries in 1994 and 1998 - both graced with the presence of Dunga - ended well for the verde-amarela, after pulsating encounters filled with passion and goals.

In the quarter-finals of the 1994 World Cup, the Brazilian side took a second-half 2-0 lead through Romario and Bebeto, the latter's goal scored by taking advantage of the recently modified offside rule. However, in just 12 minutes the Dutch managed to draw level, thanks to Dennis Bergkamp's class and a glorious header by Aaron Winter.

The deciding goal deserves some background. Left full-back Branco was in far from his best shape after spending all of his third World Cup on the bench. Brazil boss Carlos Alberto Parreira was not only concerned with Branco's lack of speed, but preferred the classier Leonardo. However, during their second-round match against hosts USA, Leonardo shockingly elbowed Tab Ramos, earning himself a red card and a subsequent suspension, and so Branco was drafted in.

With nine minutes to go, Branco himself was fouled more than 25 metres away from the Dutch goal. Leaving no one get anywhere close to the ball, he took a crack that hit Ed de Goey's left post and went in. He then ran to the bench and hugged Parreira and the rest of his team-mates while openly crying with joy and relief.

In 1998, goalkeeper Taffarel enjoyed a heroic night. After extra-time had finished 1-1, the Brazilian goalkeeper saved penalty kicks from Phillip Cocu and Ronald De Boer, taking his team to the final against France. The game had been another entertaining fight, this time between the impressive Holland of the late 90s and a Brazilian outfit led by Ronaldo Fenômeno.

However, Friday's match feels different. A large section of the Brazilian media expects a less spectacular, more tactical encounter. This Netherlands side, up to now quite balanced in both offence and defence, will not open up much space for Brazil's deadly counters, while they should enjoy possession for long spells of the match.

''The Dutch will press Brazil very close to Julio Cesar's goal, and we have some issues when that happens," believes ESPN Brazil's Mauro Cezar Pereira. In the creative side of things, Dunga will miss right midfielder Elano, usually a great help in the build-up plays. His substitute, Daniel Alves, gives Brazil more width but he will not be able to support Gilberto Silva, Lucio and Juan in getting the ball to Kaka and Robinho in the final third as well as Elano does.

Felipe Melo, still recovering from injury, won't be able to play either. His substitute, Wolfsburg's Josue, lacks Melo's physical presence, which could also mean more possession time for Holland. Ramires, who would have played, is suspended after picking up his second yellow card of the tournament against Chile.

Arjen Robben takes a trip into the bowels of the Moses Mabhida Stadium
GettyImagesArjen Robben will be a marked man.

Nevertheless, the main concern from the Brazilian perspective is Arjen Robben. Ever since Dunga announced the final 23 chosen men, most journalists agreed on two main weaknesses in this squad: the lack of a substitute for Kaka, and the average quality of the left-backs. Now Brazil meet Robben, a nightmare for any competent full-back, and a player looked totally recovered from his injury against Slovakia.

''Dunga should get his inspiration from Jose Mourinho,'' believes journalist Paulo Vinicius Coelho. ''Internazionale did a great job against Robben in the Champions League final, especially preventing him from going left.''

Five-times champion Mario Zagallo (two as a player, three as a coach/assistant) agrees: ''Robben is their biggest threat. Chile didn't know how to take advantage of the huge gap behind full-back Michel Bastos, but Holland won't be as naïve.''

Indeed, the Dutch are better armed than any of the sides Brazil have faced so far, therefore Dunga's approach will undergo their biggest challenge to reach the final. But if we choose to listen to Zagallo's experience, Brazil should defeat Netherlands with ease: ''The Dutch always play well, but it's always us who end up going through. They make you sweat, but aren't winners.''

Others don't think it will be that easy ...