Brazil coach Dunga faces World Cup selection challenge
Injury problems and fierce media pressures have given Brazil coach Dunga big selection headaches as he prepares to select his 23-man World Cup squad
By Daniel Gallas
When Dunga was appointed head coach of Brazil four years ago, many of his compatriots were displeased.
In a country where so many new talented coaches emerge every season, it seemed an odd choice to install a former player without any managing experience.
It did not help that Dunga was seen as stubborn and hot-headed back in the days when he was captain of the national team.
But by the end of 2009, the newspapers were full of praise for the man who had completed the difficult task of reforming the Seleção - bringing fresh new faces to a team formerly composed of ageing superstars.
It was commonly held belief that Brazil had had such a poor performance in Germany 2006 - where they lost in the quarter-finals to France - because of the lack of interest of its well-established and highly-paid players, some of them who had already achieved everything one can dream of on the pitch.
After Dunga had made some eccentric selection choices- like calling up the widely unknown Afonso Alves to replace stellar names like Ronaldo and Adriano - he eventually found the right new players.
Dunga's shake-up of the side saw Julio Cesar replace Dida in goal
Roberto Carlos and Cafu, who had held the full-back positions virtually uncontested for more than a decade, gave way to Andre Santos and Maicon.
Juan and Lucio, both of whom had been in Germany 2006, kept their jobs and even seemed to improve their form.
And Julio Cesar was a superb replacement for Dida in goal.
But Dunga's most important achievement was in renovating the midfield.
The problematic question of how to make Kaka and Ronaldinho, attacking midfielders so similar in style, play side-by-side was resolved in typical Dunga fashion during South American qualifying - he simply chose one and ignored the other.
It helped that Ronaldinho's career seemed to have taken a sudden turn for the worse, while Kaka remained in top form.
Brazil's best results were achieved with Felipe Melo and Gilberto Silva as defensive midfielders, and Kaka and Ramires up front supplying goals to Luis Fabiano and Robinho.
So far, this year has been ominous for the coach's plans. Kaka and Luis Fabiano, arguably Brazil's two most important attacking players, were injured, along with a host of substitutes who were on Dunga's list. Even after recovering, they are yet to regain their best form.
Dunga also seems to have given up on Andre Santos, and is now in search of a new left-back. There are no obvious choices for the vacancy.
Brazil's World Cup qualifying highlights
But what is probably really troubling Dunga is the question of Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso.
Last year, few paid attention to the Santos duo - a 17-year-old boyish striker and a 21-year-old midfielder who has already been compared to Pele.
Since January, the pair have scored 36 goals between them in only 24 games for their club. Neymar has the impressive record of one goal per game this season.
Santos have crushed many rivals since the beginning of the Brazilian season in January, including a merciless 8-1 beating of Guarani. Last weekend, Santos were crowned Sao Paulo state champions, with two goals scored by Neymar and yet another skilful exhibition by Ganso.
With Neymar and Ganso playing as they are, Robinho - who made headlines after being loaned by Manchester City to Santos for a reportedly large sum in February - has been little more than an expensive sidekick to the talented duo.
The press and the fans cannot get enough of Ganso and Neymar.
There is huge pressure on Dunga to call them up next Tuesday, when he announces the final list of who will be going to South Africa.
Last month, a TV crew filmed a whole show overnight in front of Dunga's house, prompting the understandably irritated coach to call the police. The main topic of the show was Neymar and Ganso.
And then there is still Ronaldinho.
Last season, when he was in poor shape, it was only regarded as fair that the former World Player of the Year should not be called up. This has changed dramatically since last October, when Ronaldinho regained some of his past lustre.
When Kaka started to suffer with injuries recently, many saw that Dunga would not have any replacements quite up to the task, who have the same amount of experience and skill.
Ronaldinho's return to form makes him a viable swap for the injured Kaka
A recent poll among Brazilian fans says that Ronaldinho is still regarded as the man for the job, should it come to it.
Dunga is a man who sticks to his principles and ideas. Throughout the past months, he has repeatedly said that his list was already drafted and that no-one should expect any surprises.
More recently he has gone quiet, neither confirming nor denying that some of his original plans might need rethinking, because of the new circumstances.
This has drawn a huge amount of criticism, with many pundits in Brazilian football chat-shows arguing that the coach is obliged to make changes.
We will see whether Dunga has changed his mind when he announces the final 23 players who will make it to South Africa.
And on 15 June, when Brazil play their first game in Johannesburg against North Korea, we will begin to see whether he will have made the right choices.
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