x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Decision time for Dunga over Ronaldinho

Brazil coach to name definitive 23 and the playmaker hopes his impressive form for AC Milan will earn him a recall for finals.

AC Milan's Ronaldinho is hoping to play in his third World Cup finals with Brazil.
AC Milan's Ronaldinho is hoping to play in his third World Cup finals with Brazil.

RIO DE JANEIRO // Ronaldinho, the former World Player of the Year, will learn today whether his impressive season with AC Milan will be enough to earn him a place in Brazil's World Cup. Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso, the Santos youngsters who have this year shown the sort of flair which was missing in goalless World Cup qualifying draws at home to Bolivia, Colombia and Venezuela, will also discover if Dunga, the coach, is prepared to gamble on them.

Dunga needs only to name a provisional 30-man squad today, but the gruff former World Cup-winning captain has decided to give his definitive 23 to avoid the speculation which would inevitably follow over who gets dropped. "I'm ready to go to the World Cup," Ronaldinho, who has scored 13 Serie A goals this season and created another 17, said in a television interview at the weekend. "I know that I'm just one of Dunga's options, but I'm ready."

Ronaldinho has not played for Brazil since the World Cup qualifier against Peru in April last year. At the time, he was barely featuring for his club and, after some lacklustre performances for his country, Dunga took the difficult step of dropping him. The midfielder schemer also disappointed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics when he was included as an over-age player in the under 23 competition, which saw Brazil lose 3-0 to Argentina, the eventual winners, in the semi-finals.

Dunga appeared less than enthusiastic when commenting on Ronaldinho's prospects after a 2-0 win over the Republic of Ireland in a friendly in March. "He's had his chance for Brazil, now it's up to the coaching staff to make the decision," said Dunga, who captained Brazil to the World Cup in 1994 in the USA. Ronaldinho, a World Cup winner with the Samba Stars in 2002, was one of Brazil's biggest disappointments in 2006, when the five-time champions were knocked out in the quarter-finals by France.

"Last time we spoke, he told me that he wasn't going to pick me and then put me on the bench, and he told me to get in shape," said Ronaldinho, Fifa's Player of the Year in 2004 and 2005. "Now, I'm in shape." Under Dunga's charge, Brazil have proved potent when playing a counter-attacking game but many feel Ronaldinho's inclusion would give them extra options when they have to break down a packed defence, something they have struggled to do. The inclusion of Neymar, a forward, and Ganso, an elegant playmaker, would also give the team an alternative.

Dorival Junior, the Santos coach, said on Saturday that the pair were good enough for Brazil. He said: "I wouldn't hesitate in telling Dunga that they are ready to play for Brazil." * Reuters