x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Substance over style matters for Brazil

Coach Dunga, the former tough-tackling midfielder is prepared to sacrifice their trademark flair for substance in a bid to win the tournament.

Dunga, the Brazil coach, left, has been the target of much criticism recently.
Dunga, the Brazil coach, left, has been the target of much criticism recently.

JOHANNESBURG // Brazil, the five-time World Cup champions, are often the subject of imitation. Every coach dreams of having a side play with the flair, imagination and creativity that has become synonymous with the Selecao. Yet few can truly achieve it. Dunga, the Brazil coach, has all the ingredients to forge a team capable of living up to the tradition: dribbling, dazzling and doing what the Canarinhos are renowned for - entertaining.

Instead, the former tough-tackling midfielder is prepared to sacrifice style for substance in a bid to win the tournament. Dunga overlooked Ronaldinho, the AC Milan playmaker, his teammate Alexandre Pato, one of the world's most promising forwards, and Paulo Henrique, the biggest young talent in the Brazilian league. In doing so, he has infuriated a football-loving nation and, according to the Brazilian legend Socrates, has arrived in Johannesburg with "a team full of defensive midfielders". Worse still, rather than giving a multi-talented side the licence to express themselves in a manner other coaches can only dream of, he has put them in a straightjacket.

To compound matters, rumours are rife that a training-ground bust-up between Julio Baptista and Daniel Alves has divided the squad. The Selecao players - including Elano, Alves and Ramires - however, appear united behind their coach, insisting they are pleased with the team's preparation ahead of tonight's game. Elano, the former Manchester City midfielder who now plays for Galatasaray in Turkey, said he rates Dunga as one of the best coaches he has ever worked under.

"He is very simple," Elano said. "He understands what the players need and want and he speaks to us all individually and frequently. We all want to play for Dunga and show him what we can do against North Korea." While Ramires, the Brazil midfielder, admits knowledge of North Korea, their opponent tonight at Ellis Park, is limited to a recording of a 45-minute friendly, Elano is adamant Brazil will show the Koreans the deference they deserve.

"We have to respect them, too. When we look at history, Brazil may have many more titles than they do, but once the match starts we will need to have the same respect as we would have for any other team," he said. The last time North Korea appeared at a World Cup was in 1966 where they reached the quarter-finals after defeating Italy, but coach Kim Jong-hun knows his task this time is far more difficult.

"What I know about Brazil is that it has some of the world's most famous players," he said. "But our players are very skilled - they don't lag behind any player in the world." Jong Tae-se, Kim's leading striker, is confident though and, as well as predicting he will score a goal in every game he plays this month, he also believes his country, 105th in the Fifa rankings, can pull off the unthinkable and defeat the top-ranked team in the world.

"The match will be very difficult, but we can beat Brazil. Everybody thinks we can't, but we have a valiant heart and lots of spirit," Jong said. "Valiant hearts can do miracles." The North Koreans are undoubtedly the least-known quantity partaking in the month-long showpiece. Little is known about the tactics the team - nicknamed The Chollima - plan to employ and with all but two of their players playing club football domestically, the personnel is as unidentifiable as an amateur team kicking a futbal on Copacabana beach.

Dunga, however, appears taken by the North Koreans' anonymity and has set about turning his players into recluses. The controversial coach has enforced a media blackout, resulting in journalists being denied access to the team's training session three times in the space of four days. His players - required to speak under Fifa regulations - do so infrequently and briskly. The blackout is showing signs of backfiring and will intensify if they fail to beat the unheralded North Koreans tonight.


Key battles

Jong Tae-se v Lucio Jong

North Korea's idolised forward, has promised a goal a game this month. Fortunately for him, after today he will not have to face a defender as accomplished as Lucio, the Brazil captain and Inter Milan's Champions League-winning centre-half. 

Luis Fabiano v Ri Myong-guk 

Fabiano (below), the Brazil forward, has scored just once in nine internationals, but he will get plenty of chances against Ri, the novice North Korean goalkeeper. Both players will be busy and, depending who is on form, things could quickly escalate to embarrassing. 

Tactics The North Koreans defend in the style of Italy's catenaccio; focusing on keeping a clean sheet and hoping to score if the opposition switch off. Brazil prefer to deploy attacking full-backs, have steel in the midfield, and a striker intent on making a statement. 

Player to watch Kaka After a poor debut season with Real Madrid, the Brazilian playmaker must find his feet quickly or risk being dropped by Dunga, the determined coach. 

Last meeting These teams have never met, not surprising given that North Korea rarely play friendlies. The North Koreans only other appearance in the World Cup was in 1966, when they produced a famous win over Italy and got to the quarter-finals. 

Did you know? Brazil have scored the most goals in World Cups, 201. Not a shock since they have won the tournament five times and Ronaldo has 15 scored goals on his own in the tournament.