It was a mistake they couldn’t help but make. Brazil, still raw after their 7-1 evisceration in the World Cup semi-final, needed someone familiar, someone strong. They turned to Dunga.
He had already been manager once. It hadn’t gone well, with a naive exit to the Netherlands in the quarter-finals in South Africa 2010 costing him his job. As he took over the reigns once more, the feeling was that things, surely, could not get any worse.
Fast-forward to July 2016. Dunga had been sacked again after an embarrassing crash out in the Copa Centenario Group Stage.
“In Brazil, we want everything to change in two minutes,” he said. “But in football, you must be patient.”
His replacement has proved otherwise. Tite, the demurring coach of Corinthians, took over and transformed the side’s fortunes instantly. Brazil waltzed to the top of CONMEBOL qualifying and are amongst the cast-iron favorites to win the title in Russia. They shouldn’t be, however.
The Selecao are weak at full back. Marcelo may well be the most breathtakingly skillful defender in world football, but he is a defensive liability that has cost Real Madrid goals this year with his poor positioning. The same arrogance that makes him such an effervescent force offensively, can also make him prone to rash challenges and poor discipline.
On the other flank, Danilo is a feeble substitute for the injured Dani Alves. The Manchester City man has filled in at several positions this season, whilst never really impressing enough to become an undisputed starter. A horrendous spell at Real Madrid still seems to be affecting his confidence, and one mistake might transform him into a convulsing wreck.
For all their attacking talent, Brazil lacks an organiser and pocket passer in the centre of the park. It is a role that Renato Augusto played usefully in qualifying, but he will not be a starter in Russia. Paulinho, who ran out of gas at Barcelona after a noteworthy start, will be charged with linking things between midfield and attack.
It’s a role that he’s not especially used to, and his indifferent form at club level means there is a question mark over how effective he will be against defensive, organised sides like Costa Rica and Switzerland.
Despite their weaknesses, Brazil should qualify from the group stage handily. Their draw for the knockout stages looks negotiable too, assuming that the favourites qualify from their respective groups. For Brazil, therefore, the biggest question is their mentality.
This group of players will look to exorcise the demons of Belo Horizonte four years ago, but in doing so they could make the same mistake of the first time round. Against Joachim Low’s Germany, the Selecao played the event rather than the game.
Fixtures in Russia are unlikely to hold the same emotional weight as one convened in their own country, but the sense of injustice and the search for revenge will hang over this tournament. It is imperative that Brazil’s players control these urges, maintaining their focus on the game at hand.
The previous tournament was dominated by Neymar. A man whose faced is plastered across every billboard and product in his home country, a man who carried the weight of his nation on his back until it was broken by Juan Zuniga four years ago. Brazil expected then, and it was let down.
Russia will follow a similar pattern. Neymar is now in his prime, with a move to Paris Saint Germain signifying his ambition to become the biggest player on the planet. His individuality, however, could prove a weakness as well as a strength. Tite must ensure that the 26-year-old doesn’t try to do too much and that his desire for personal success remains intwined with the team objectives.
After their disembowelment against Germany, there is cautious optimism in Rio. For now, that caution is wise.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group G in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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