The Brazilian national soccer team is synonymous with beautiful play -- Joga Bonito in Portuguese. But what happens when the coach is a veteran defensive midfielder, convinced that steel is just as important as finesse in winning a World Cup, like the one he helped take home in 1994? You get the 2010 version of the Brazilian national team -- a more balanced edition than the nation has fielded in years but lacking some of the spectacular offensive weaponry that has come to be associated with the Selecao. Most notably absent in South Africa will be AC Milan duo Ronaldinho and Alexandre Pato.
But in four years under coach Dunga, Brazil has been on an impressive run, winning just about everything in its reach. The team was Copa America champion in 2007, won the Confederations Cup last year, and finished first in South American qualifying.
The Brazilians have world-class quality all over the field, a range of attacking options to complement a stingy defense and perhaps the world's best goalkeeper. In short, the elements that make them favorites to take a sixth World Cup home to Brazil. Whether a championship devoid of Joga Bonito will appease Dunga's critics is another matter.
Coaching the Brazilian national team is one of the more difficult jobs in sports. Fans across the country and around the world think of the team as their own, and when they watch Brazil play, they want beautiful attacking soccer. That hasn't stopped Dunga from applying the hard-nosed philosophy that made him a successful player. For that, Dunga has been the subject of intense criticism from inside Brazil and abroad, despite achieving nothing but success during his time in charge.
Style of play
In imposing his team-oriented philosophy, Dunga has forsaken some world-class attacking players in favor of a more rounded approach that starts from the back. With Real Madrid star Kaka as a lynchpin, a hard-working and flexible midfield supports some solid striking options on top of an otherwise standard 4-4-2. Brazil also has a significant offensive threat in its wing backs, specifically right back Maicon and his backup Dani Alves, who are devastating going forward.
Players to watch
1. Kaka. The Brazilian attack will be disproportionately routed through the Real Madrid playmaker. So there's a good chance Brazil's World Cup will be boom or bust in tandem with the verdict on his play.
2. Gilberto Silva. The epitome of everything Dunga respects in soccer and life, Silva has fought for success every step of the way. He is the rock the Brazilian midfield is built on, playing a role similar to Dunga's on that 1994 World Cup-winning team.
3. Luis Fabiano. Nothing if not a prolific scorer, Fabiano has tallied in buckets for club and country for several years running. As Brazil's primary strike threat, the Sevilla forward starts the World Cup on the inside track for the golden boot.
Julio Cesar. The keeper's incredible run of form this year at Inter Milan was key to the club's Champions League title and has put Cesar at the top of the list in the discussion of world's best.
Robinho. Run out of Manchester City over the winter, the mercurial forward fled back to Brazil to get some playing time and just managed to make the cut for the World Cup.
Three key questions
1. What happens if Kaka gets hurt? One of the principal worries surrounding the Brazilian camp is the importance of the somewhat injury-prone Kaka to the attack. The offense flows through him, and Brazil could be in trouble should he go down at some point because Dunga has omitted most of the satisfactory replacements.
2. Will Brazil please the crowds and nation? Nearly 200 million Brazilians and countless millions more around the world back the Selecao. Most of them want more than anything to see the free-flowing, attacking soccer they so love, at any cost, and feel as if they should be coaching the team in Dunga's place. Fans aren't likely to get as much Joga Bonito this year, and it's far from certain that even a hard-won title will please the masses.
3. Can anyone keep Brazil from its sixth title? Joga Bonito or not, this is a complete team that is the overall favorite of most to take the World Cup. It will take a massive effort from any team to top them.
G Julio Cesar, Inter Milan (Italy)
D Maicon, Inter Milan (Italy)
D Lucio, Inter Milan (Italy)
D Juan, AS Roma (Italy)
D Gilberto, Cruzeiro (Brazil)
M Elano, Galatasaray (Turkey)
M Gilberto Silva, Panathinaikos (Greece)
M Felipe Melo, Juventus (Italy)
M Kaka, Real Madrid (Spain)
F Nilmar, Villarreal (Spain)
F Luís Fabiano, Sevilla (Spain)