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Page last updated at 11:16 GMT, Wednesday, 3 March 2010

New-look Brazil go back to basics

Brazil coach Dunga has total faith in his approach ahead of the 2010 World Cup

By Sam Lyon
BBC Sport at the Emirates

Think of the greats of Brazilian football and you will probably come up with Pele, Garrincha, Rivelino, Socrates - players full of flair, skill and vision. In short, geniuses.

The name of Dunga, however, wouldn't necessarily be on the tip of your tongue. A nuggety defensive midfielder who cut his teeth in Italian football and prizes tactics above flamboyance does not quite fit the Brazilian stereotype.

But while Dunga, who captained Brazil to victory at the 1994 World Cup, might have flown under the radar as a player to some extent, there is no danger of him doing so as a manager.

For now, as head coach of the national side, he is playing a lead role in formulating a new brand of Brazilian football, one that in many ways is shaped in his own image.

And the critics back in his home country are not amused.

Since his appointment in July 2006, the 46-year-old has led Brazil to the 2007 Copa America, the 2009 Confederations Cup and comfortable qualification for this year's World Cup.

His record reads 36 wins from 53 matches, and 43 from 61 if you include the 2008 Olympics campaign - a win percentage of 75.4.

But that is not enough. Not in a country that epitomises all that is glorious and glamorous about the game of football.

Irish Devil

The accusation is that Dunga is too pragmatic. Too keen to put the result first and the performance second. Substance over style.

And for a country that has won the greatest prize of them all on five occasions and has also given the world Jairzinho, Zico, Romario and Ronaldo, that is unacceptable.

His selection of the defensive-minded Felipe Melo and Gilberto Silva in central midfield is considered anti-football. His insistence that Robinho, Kaka and Adriano track back as well as attack baffles the average Brazilian fan. The continued absence from his squad of Ronaldinho has been attacked from all angles by his country's press.

Even German legend Franz Beckenbauer weighed into the debate in December, stating: "I don't know this Brazil. I don't like the style. Sorry, Brazil is (about) offense and scoring goals, not controlled soccer."

And now, it would appear, Dunga's patience has worn thin.

He has already announced he will step down as Brazil coach, however far his side gets in South Africa this summer.

And meet the man up close and his frustration at having to answer to the media is hardly disguised. In a room packed full of Brazilian journalists in town for the friendly against the Republic of Ireland, Dunga bristles as the questions rain in, constantly rolling his eyes, sweeping his hair back or sighing deeply.

Kaka is not yet at his brilliant best

Why have you not selected Ronaldinho? "Everyone always wants to talk about players who are not here. You need to respect the players that are here," he snaps.

How do you deal with the pressure of coaching Brazil? "It's normal that everybody speculates on what could happen. But I need to see what actually will happen. Pressure has always been the story of Brazil. It doesn't give you any advantage or any lack of it. It's something that happens and you have to live with it," he replies.

What do you say to those who do not like your coaching style? "Some people say I'm arrogant but that's not true. Most players in Brazil are talented players. But we don't live on talent. We live on results," he says forcefully.

It is that final philosophy that upsets his critics so much.

It is an approach that he has engineered - publicly - from the start of his reign.

"Talent is extremely important but it has to be united with other things, history shows this," he said at the time of his appointment. "Brazil have often had players of quality but haven't got the results. The national team is not only about skill any more; it's about competitiveness and commitment."

And he makes no apologies for it nearly four years later.

An open training session at the Emirates Stadium on Monday provided an interesting insight into the workings of the Brazilian.

Only so much can be concluded from such a session, of course - why would any side wish to reveal their inner-most secrets and methods with the world's media watching? - but it was still noteworthy that Dunga employed a watching brief, his lieutenants running the drills.

The 2006 side lacked a bit of collective spirit. When the group is solid, individual talent tips the balance. But when there is no collectiveness, then individualism goes down the drain together with the group


And whereas you might imagine previous Brazil sides flicking the ball around with aplomb, Dunga ran through endless set-pieces. When a 20-minute match took place at the end, it was 11-a-side on half a pitch, with only two touches allowed and the emphasis on pass and move and closing down the opposition.

In Brazil, some have called it "killing creativity", but on this evidence it is more about enhanced preparation.

Few can argue his approach has not bred results much improved from the embarrassment felt among Brazil fans after the 2006 World Cup, when they were knocked out at the quarter-final stage.

And at a time when Brazil are hardly brimming with the wealth of top-class stars of previous vintages, Dunga is leading from from the front in exactly the way modern football demands: marrying flair with function.

Brazil's 2-0 friendly win over Ireland on Tuesday typified Dunga's approach.

A sluggish start against the Irish at the Emirates Stadium was still notable for the Brazilian players' application, closing the opposition down high up the pitch and squeezing two lines of four in defence. Even Adriano, the striker who disappointed so badly in 2006, broke into a sprint back towards his own goal every now and then.

Still, Ireland had the odd glimpse at goal and, for the first 40 minutes, Brazil were very disappointing going forward. On that evidence alone it would have been easy to understand the supporters' frustration with Dunga's philosophy.

But then they took the lead - albeit fortuitously - and in the second half they barely allowed Ireland a touch of the ball.

Robinho, king of the stepover, was their tormentor in chief. Maicon, bombing forward, underlined why he is regarded as one of the best attacking full-backs in world football. Michel Bastos supplemented attacks on the left at every opportunity, while Kaka - though far from his best - stalked the pitch at will, full of intent. When the Real Madrid playmaker returns to top form, and you can bet it will be at the World Cup, he could be unplayable.

And that is Dunga's point.

Robinho scored a superb second goal against Ireland at the Emirates

Yes, he has instilled a work ethic in the side that was barely recognisable in some previous Brazil sides - most notably the one that slumped four years ago. And yes he expects even his most flamboyant players to do their bit defensively and to keep the shape of the team.

He has not, however, totally robbed the team of their Samba magic. In attack, Kaka, Robinho and, when they play, the likes of Dani Alves, Elano, Nilmar and Luis Fabiano, have the freedom of the pitch to express themselves, to pull out of position and create something, to torment defenders as they see fit.

When Robinho popped up to sweep home Brazil's second goal at the Emirates, it was on the back of a 22-pass move, full of one-touch football, mesmerising movement and even the odd back-heel.

"Everything is almost clear for us," said the coach after the match. "And we have different options depending on how we need to play."

The flamboyance is still very much in effect. But with the ethic of the team now much improved and an awareness of their defensive responsibilities in place throughout the team, Brazil appear able to execute whatever gameplan is necessary to win.

As Dunga remarked about the 2006 Brazil generation: "They lacked a bit of collective spirit. When the group is solid, individual talent tips the balance. But when there is no collectiveness, then individualism goes down the drain together with the group."

The preparations are not yet complete and there are certainly creases to be ironed out in the coming weeks.

But if Brazil do fail to win the World Cup for a staggering sixth time this year, it will not be down to a lack of preparation, a losing philosophy or even a suffocation of the Samba magic.

Dunga will see to that.

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see also
Rep of Ireland 0-2 Brazil
02 Mar 10 |  Irish
Rooney tipped for World Cup glory
02 Mar 10 |  Football
Ronaldinho could miss World Cup
09 Feb 10 |  Football
Brazil face tough World Cup group
04 Dec 09 |  World Cup 2010
Brazil beat Argentina to qualify
06 Sep 09 |  Internationals
US 2-3 Brazil
28 Jun 09 |  Internationals
Brazil 4-3 Egypt
15 Jun 09 |  Internationals
Brazil appoint Dunga as new coach
24 Jul 06 |  Internationals
Guide to the teams at South Africa 2010
05 Dec 09 |  World Cup 2010
World Cup map
05 Dec 09 |  World Cup 2010

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