World Cup Countdown: Brazil update
Not far back, when October loomed and Brazil went about wrapping up their World Cup qualifying campaign, I was just one of many voices praising Dunga’s man management and, whatever reservations I had as to the team’s shape and tactics, it was self-evident that the canarinha were reaping the benefits of having a settled squad in which all but fringe places were decided. Few, if any, of the major national teams who seriously covet gold in South Africa can lay such a claim. Indeed, some struggled to qualify whilst others still have been churning through a dizzying turnover of players or resting their hopes on the return to fitness of talismanic figures. Not so Brazil.
Come the New Year and this generally still holds true; albeit the next few months will not be without concern for the Brazilian coaching staff as club form and injuries start to impede on even the most well-laid of plans.
If modern football is said to be a 14-man game, acknowledging the importance of key substitutions, it appears that Dunga’s favoured starting line-up is the following, a. Julio Cesar in goal; Lucio and Juan the centre-back pairing with Maicon usually getting the nod at right back ahead of Daniel Alves , who serves as Dunga’s wild card in a variety of positions; screening just ahead of them are Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo with the close cooperation of a third body in there, either Elano , ( valued for his set-piece deliveries) or Ramires who brings all round dynamism to the mix; the attacking midfield slot is the preserve of Kaká, whose understudy is that eternal Dunga confidante Julio Baptista; the wide-left attacking position is held by Robinho – another favourite of Dunga’s, with Nilmar of Villarreal offering the alternative; and the No.9 shirt goes to Luis Fabiano whose deputy is an Adriano who is at last showing some signs of consistency and mental happiness back in his homeland.
No doubt you will have noted the absence of a left-back in my above summary; this intentionally reflects Dunga’s own predicament on the matter. André Santos earned call-ups on the back of impressive performances for Corinthians, but he has since been finding it hard to settle into his new side Fenerbahce; going so far as to getting involved and punished in a sex orgy scandal. But even accounting for this off-field indiscretion, André can be thankful that persistent injury left a more obvious candidate, Fábio Aurelio, indisposed at critical stages over the past year, whilst Deportivo La Coruña’s Filipe Luis failed to translate his admirable club form to the international sphere during the sole opportunity conceded him. In fact, Dunga has even experimented with Daniel Alves there, which goes to show how ill-assured he is by the current batch of pretenders.
Another area which we had previously considered done and dusted was the options from attacking midfield. Kaka will doubtlessly be the occupant of the No.10 sector, but his patchy form for Madrid, and by extension the possibility of injury-however slight- may well hamper the one player who is truly indispensable in this set-up. Julio Baptista is clearly a step below in light of Kaka, and brings less obvious qualities to the position, but even he has been poor for Roma this season, often failing to make the starting XI. If Diego couldn’t impress Dunga during his impressive spells with Werder Bremen, his recent performances for Juventus should see him failing to make the cut; a sad thing in my opinion, but a reflection of reality nonetheless.
This is not unrelated to the doubts surrounding Robinho’s starting place. For the national team, he has been a fixed starter despite his abject participation in Manchester City’s past season and a half. Clearly, the thinking of the management is to boost his confidence whilst his club career reaches some level of stability, and indeed the player has reciprocated the fraternal embrace of the national team- surely a relief for the man coming from Eastlands –with performances and application which have been more than acceptable. But surely Dunga cannot have been hoping that Robinho’s awol status at City would be such a protracted affair- and this becomes alarming coming into the final stretch before the World Cup begins. Hence, the entry in the past few games of Nilmar, who has responded with lively appearances and goals, is a godsend. Initially, Nilmar had been expected to slug it out in the pecking order for the No.0 shirt behind Luis Fabiano, Adriano and Pato. But the Milan forward has oddly, given his form for the rossoneri, been pushed to the margins and the demands for the position now in the coaches’ eyes appear to correspond to burly target men.
And now a distinct possibility is the return of Ronaldinho should his resurrection for Milan be sustained. But whereas before, Dinho was part of an attacking midfield duo alongside Kaka or else as a replacement for him, now there is the tantalizing prospect- however remote- that the gaucho will be considered for the outside-left position, a familiar brief to him from his Barcelona days and now his improving level at Milan.
Fringe players include centre-back Miranda of Sao Paulo and Wolfsburg’s Josué who usually comes in to replace one of the defensive midfielders. This is a sector which should cause Brazil a headache should Felipe Melo’s bleak period at Juventus continue, yet Dunga has leaped to the defence of the bianconero misfit saying that with Melo, Brazil have never lost a competitive game. And, of course, it has become customary for the national team to leave two or three peripheral places up for grabs amongst those Brazilian championship players who steal the headlines; this season’s beneficiaries have been Diego Souza (offensive mid- Palmeiras) and Diego Tardelli (striker for Atletico Mineiro). These places, however, are subject to form and fitness during the protracted state championships (from February until April) whilst the national league only gets underway in May.
By and large, we are likely to see the same collection of players in South Africa come June, though don’t be surprised if two key positions become a burning uncertainty.