World Cup 2010 1 Day

World Cup 2010: Under Dunga, Brazil trades style for substance

By Juan Forero
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 10, 2010

Brazil is there, as in every World Cup, a five-time champion that is the perennial favorite to win it all. But when the Selecao takes the field for its first match in South Africa against North Korea on Tuesday, the team won't be the Brazil of Pelé, which played "the beautiful game," or the Brazil of the 1982 World Cup, which was so gifted that its attack was compared to poetry in motion.

Gone is the razzle and dazzle.

What Brazil brings to the world stage this time is pragmatism, workmanlike teamwork, hustle. Ronaldinho, a temperamental star who at his best is perhaps the best in the world, did not make the cut. Instead, Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri, the head coach better known as Dunga, has built a team on defense. Goalkeeper Julio César, who excelled at Inter Milan, is the anchor, and among six sterling defensive midfielders will be tough enforcers such as Lúcio and Maicon.

It is not pretty, say irked fans in Brazil, who place nearly as much importance on style as winning. But the new team's mantra is do anything it takes to bring home the World Cup title, and few doubt that Dunga's squad will, at the very least, make the semifinals.

"We have stars here, but they must play together on the field because that is the most important thing," Dunga told reporters in late May. "We have to play as a team or we will not progress."

So far, that formula -- preparation, teamwork, caution -- has helped make Brazil a team to fear in South Africa. Under Dunga, Brazil won the Confederations Cup in South Africa last June and the Copa America in 2007. In World Cup qualifying matches, the Brazilians conceded only a handful of goals and throttled opponents, including another power, Argentina.

For years, Brazil fielded teams of spectacular strikers, from Pelé to Ronaldinho to Ronaldo, who has scored more World Cup goals than any other player. They were the stars who embodied the traditional Brazilian way of playing soccer: fast-flowing, offensive-minded, full of trickery, creativity and almost dancelike ball movements. It is a style that, in essence, reflects the soul of the South American giant.

But in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Ronaldo was criticized for showing up overweight and Ronaldinho failed to ignite the team. France unceremoniously dumped Brazil in the quarterfinals, triggering recriminations as the nation began a collective soul-searching.

Enter Dunga, 46, who brings a decidedly militaristic approach to coaching.

As a player, he learned from the disciplined, defensive-minded German and Italian schools of soccer. On the Selecao, he patrolled the middle of the pitch as a defensive midfielder in the 1990s. In 1994, he was captain of the squad that won the World Cup in the United States. He wears a drill sergeant's crew cut and says little to reporters.

Once he was named coach, one of the first things he did was ban reporters and fans from practices. And then he got down to work, announcing that no one player was bigger than the famous yellow shirt that represents the country.

He got rid of Ronaldinho and also cut Adriano, another superstar. That does not mean the team does not possess some magic. Dunga kept an explosive striker in Robinho, a washout at Manchester City who now plays for Santos back in Brazil. The playmaker is the creative Kaká, who plays for Real Madrid in Spain's La Liga and is known for his work ethic.

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