x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Dunga's risk-free football

The Brazil coach is aiming for winning football rather than providing fans with a typically entertaining brand of Samba flair.

Real Madrid's new playmaker Kaka, foreground, goes through a training routine with his Brazil teammates in Bloemfontein.
Real Madrid's new playmaker Kaka, foreground, goes through a training routine with his Brazil teammates in Bloemfontein.

JOHANNESBURG // To win, or to play the game well? It is football's eternal debate, and it is felt perhaps more keenly in Brazil than anywhere else for they, of course, have the memory of having won the 1970 World Cup by playing football as well as any side have. It seems their present coach, Dunga, will always be damned by comparison with that team.

The Brazil he captained to success in the World Cup in 1994 was probably as functional as any Brazil team have been; the team he is managing similarly are regularly condemned as unadventurous, lacking in the improvisation that Brazilians see as characterising all that is best about their football. Earlier this month, Tostao, a centre-forward in the 1970 team and now an acerbic newspaper pundit, went so far as to say that Dunga's side played Italian-style football, which in Brazil is criticism indeed.

Dunga remains unapologetic. "Talent is not enough," he said. "Talent is extremely important, but it has to be united with other things to have any effect. History shows this. On a lot of occasions, Brazil have had players of very high quality, but haven't got the results. From the moment we manage to equal other teams in terms of motivation and will to win, our technique will make the difference."

He has already led Brazil to the Copa America, and is clear about his ambition to become only the third man - after Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer - to win the World Cup as player and coach. And if pragmatism is the best way to achieve that, so be it. Brazil continue their preparation to that goal at the Confederations Cup, starting with tonight's game against Egypt, in which Dunga looks set to continue with his most controversial selection: the deployment of the 32-year-old Gilberto Silva in midfield.

Only Robinho has been picked more often in Dunga's 40 games in charge, and despite his consistency, the Brazilian press continue to lobby for him to be dropped in favour of Liverpool's Lucas Leiva. "It's odd that when people talk about someone like [the 34-year-old Juan Sebastian] Veron in Argentina, they say he is experienced," Gilberto said. "But when they talk about me, they say I'm too old. I know they'll always criticise me, but it doesn't bother me."

Dunga has promised every member of his 23-man squad playing time, which could lead to some fascinating sub-plots. Robinho's position behind a front man looks secure, which means Luis Fabiano and Alexandre Pato will effectively be going head-to-head for the frontline striking berth. "This is a chance to show I can be first choice," said Fabiano. "But I'm not aiming to be the success story of the tournament or the team: I just want to win the title."

Their start may be simpler than it might have appeared when the draw was made, with Egypt struggling to recapture the form that saw them defend the African Cup of Nations in 2008. They will be further blunted by the loss of the striker Amr Zaki, their main goal threat who also performs a valuable function in holding the ball up, providing a focal point for their gifted midfielders to play off. Borussia Dortmund's technically gifted Mohamed Zidan, who lacks Zaki's presence, is likely to be the main striker.

Not that that is likely to persuade Dunga into taking any risks; safety first is a way of life. jwilson@thenational.ae Brazil v Egypt, KO 6pm, ART Sport 5