Brazil fall prey to Dunga's model
Dunga's four-year tenure at the helm of the Brazilian national team came to a shocking end after the five-time world champions suffered a surprising defeat at the hands of Wesley Sneijder's Dutch squad in the quarter-finals.
Brazil's 2-1 loss and subsequent exit of the tournament exemplified to an excruciating level of detail the positives and negatives that have characterised Dunga's spell as the coach of the verde-amarela. During the first 45 minutes, the Dutch struggled against Brazil's close to perfect defensive positioning and sheer physical power; Robinho, Dani Alves and Luis Fabiano put the cherry on the cake of Brazil's dominant first-half display with several slick moves.
Once the Brazilians had taken the lead through the Manchester City - now on loan to Santos - forward after only ten minutes, the match was exactly where Dunga wanted it to be. Brazil's defensive structure took control of proceedings and kept the Dutch far away from Julio Cesar's goal, while the three forwards kept looking for a chance to kill the match off.
After half-time, the flow remained similar: the Dutch seemed incapable of creating chances despite their pinpoint passing, and Brazil maintained the same attitude, safe at the back and content to let time go by. But the shock came after ten minutes: a dead ball from Sneijder saw keeper Julio Cesar and defensive midfielder Felipe Melo collide, and the latter ended up heading the ball into his own net.
The Dutch equaliser changed completely the dynamic of the match. Brazil lost their composure, while their defence started to crack against the increasingly accurate efforts from Robben, Sneijder and Van Persie, who were finally managing to get into scoring positions. In another corner kick for the Dutch side, Luis Fabiano allowed Dirk Kuyt to flick the ball, and Sneijder - hardly much of an aerial threat - headed home as no Brazilian defender tracked him down and Cesar bizarrely stayed on his own goal-line.
The fact that both of the Netherlands' goals came from set pieces mustn't go unmentioned. Dead-ball strategy, both in attack and defence, had become one of the main strengths of this Brazilian side since Dunga took over. However, against the Dutch, it cost them the match.
Another key element of Dunga's approach was his determination - some may call it stubbornness - to stick to the same group of players, at times regardless of their current shape. For instance, Felipe Melo's inclusion in the final list of 23 players had been a controversial one among the Brazilian media, after an unquestionably poor season in Italy. If that was not enough, right after the list was announced, the Juventus player argued in harsh terms with the press, insulting one of Brazil's top journalists and giving some public statements which made his lack of emotional control blatant.
Melo's performance against the Dutch also epitomised the strengths and weaknesses of Dunga's team: an almost spotless first half, during which the Brazilian midfielder kept the Dutch attacks under control, and even assisted Robinho to score with a gorgeous through ball, and a completely nonsensical second, not only scoring an own goal but also earning himself a straight red card after viciously stamping on Arjen Robben. Melo showed his worst version just when his coach and his team needed his best.
With just over fifteen minutes remaining, 2-1 down and with ten men on the pitch, it was time for Dunga to react. And at this point yet another of this team's flaws became apparent. Dunga looked at the bench and many of us can imagine how he felt: he did not have a game-changer to bring onto the pitch. Bearing in mind the wealth of offensive players that this country has produced over the past few years, the substitution of Luis Fabiano for Villarreal's Nilmar to help the side launch their final effort tells anyone who cares to listen that something must have gone awfully wrong with the selection of the 23 players for this World Cup.
Brazil had not been trailing once during the whole tournament, and they did not look comfortable having to come from behind to win the match. The team managed to enjoy some counter-attacking options, thanks to the surprising intent of the Dutch side to score their third, rather than keeping possession against a rival reduced to ten men. In the final minutes the encounter became a thriller, with a good chance for Brazil to score off a corner kick followed by an amazing opportunity badly squandered by the Dutch on the counter-attack.
When Japanese referee Nishimura blew the final whistle, few doubted the immediate consequences of this early elimination for the Brazilian national team. Just as Dunga was explaining his decision to step down- "We knew when I started that I would be here for four years" - journal Folha de Sao Paulo launched an internet poll in which 46% of readers pointed at the now ex-coach as the main culprit for this failure.
Dunga had been loyal to the principles that saw him win as a player and as a coach, those same principles that have taken Brazil out of this World Cup.