This is a Brazil team of the like we haven’t seen since 1994. A robust, pragmatic outfit which gives short shrift to those who put individual skill before the team collective – as the omissions of Ronaldinho, Adriano and Alexandre Pato from the World Cup squad illustrate – this is very much a team built in Dunga’s image. Despite eventually finishing top of the group, CONMEBOL qualification was not all plain sailing for the Selecao, with defeats away in Bolivia and Paraguay (although perhaps altitude can be blamed for the Bolivia result) and draws in seven of their 18 games.
The qualifying campaign, however, had seen this group of players show glimpses of their collective potential, a potential which was emphatically transformed into consistently excellent performances during the Confederations Cup last June. Comfortable victories over Egypt, USA and Italy were followed by a 1-0 semi-final win against the hosts, South Africa, before a superb comeback from two goals down to defeat the USA 3-2 in the final. It was last summer that this Brazilian side came of age and, despite some observers still persisting in criticising Dunga for what is perceived to be an “un-Brazilian” style, established themselves as real contenders for the World Cup following a couple of years in the doldrums after their quarter-final exit in the 2006 tournament.
Tactically, Dunga’s Brazil are a fascinating proposition, if not a straightforward team to figure out. Despite their reputation for playing a solid, physical game, this set of players are surprisingly fluid in terms of the system they adopt. Setting his team out in what is nominally a 4-2-3-1 (although, as Zonal Marking has pointed out, it has also been interpreted as a 4-4-2 diamond), Dunga has drilled his team to become very flexible in the midfield. Starting with Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo as holding players, Ramires playing in both central and right channels and Kaka and Robinho as a more advanced midfield/attacking duo, the five players can adapt to form a 4-3-3 (Ramires dropping deeper, Kaka and Robinho joining Luis Fabiano in attack) with relative ease. This transformation to a 4-3-3 has proved particularly devastating on the counter-attack, as demonstrated by Brazil’s third goal in the video below, and has given this team an added element of surprise and tactical ingenuity going forward.
At the back, Julio Cesar – arguably the world’s best goalkeeper – provides a reliable base, whilst Lucio and Juan represent a vastly experienced and intelligent central-defensive pairing. The full-backs, likely to be Inter’s Maicon and Michel Bastos of Lyon, offer yet another dimension in attack whilst also being better defensively than they are given credit for. Up front, Sevilla’s Luis Fabiano leads the line efficiently, the striker having scored 9 goals in qualifying to firmly establish himself as his country’s first-choice centre forward.
From back to front, this is a very complete team, a group of players that have grown together and have an excellent collective spirit and work ethic. Although there are slight question marks over the form of some players (Gilberto Silva, Felipe Melo and Robinho perhaps the most worrying), Dunga has absolute faith in his players and his system and, with a defensively sound and excellent counter-attacking unit at his disposal, Brazil fans should be optimistic about their team’s chances this summer.
Probable starting XI: Cesar (Inter); Maicon (Inter), Lucio (Inter), Juan (Roma), Bastos (Lyon); Gilberto Silva (Panathanaikos), Melo (Juventus); Ramires (Benfica), Kaka (Real Madrid), Robinho (Manchester City); Luis Fabiano (Sevilla)
The Road to South Africa: 1st in CONMEBOL qualification
World Ranking: 1st