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New broom may spell doom for Dunga

MARACAIBO, Venezuela - After a year of friendlies, Wednesday marked D-Day for Dunga and when the final whistle went the D stood for disaster.

The Brazil manager faced his first competitive match at the helm against a Mexico side missing at least six first choice players. They were humbled 2-0 and Dunga, like several of the players he picked, looked out his depth.

The former World Cup winning captain has transformed the side that exited the World Cup last year in such timid fashion against the French. He said goodbye to stalwarts like Cafu, Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo and brought in men who play the game as he played it, with passion and guile.

Elano, the midfielder with Ukranian side Shaktar Donetsk. Wagner Love, CSKA Moscow's centre forward. Seville's utility defender Daniel Alves. And a few players so obscure that not even Brazilian football reporters had heard of them.

Until Wednesday, it was so far so good. In nine friendlies his new side lost just once. And then the competition got serious.

And when the going got tough, Brazil were found wanting.

Dunga's side lacked cohesion and they lacked creativity, the cardinal sin for any Brazil side.

Dunga hoped that by uniting Diego, Robinho and Elano he might bring back some of the old magic they conjured up together at Santos. All three were key members of the great Santos side whose performances in winning the Brazilian league championship in 2002 and 2004 brought back memories of the Pele-era side.

That strategy backfired in the face of a resolute Mexican midfield. Robinho was perhaps Brazil's most inventive player but Diego found little space for his trademark dribbles and Elano, who has played in every one of Dunga's games in charge and come to personify the new era, was so ineffectual that he was replaced at half-time.

As manager, Dunga has tried to base his team on the same qualities of spirit, loyalty and determination that marked his victorious reign as captain. The side he captained to the victory in the United States in 1994 and the football it played has become known as the 'Dunga era'.

But it confirmed the end of traditional Brazilian football in many ways. If Brazil had failed to win the World Cup under Dunga and end a 24-year drought, just as Sebastiao Lazaroni's side had failed so miserably to make an impact four years earlier, Brazilians might have turned their back on that charmless football and opted for a return to the swashbuckling style that epitomised the 1980s.

If they were going to lose, better to lose with style, like Zico, Socrates, Junior, etc did in 1982. But they won one of the worst World Cups of all time and that system, championed by Carlos Alberto Parreira, took hold.

Perhaps it was a system that was an inevitability, given the changes in the game and the increased reliance on running, pressing and brute strength.

But Dunga's decision to put those qualities ahead of finesse were fundamental in depriving him of the two players most likely to spark life into his team of muscle men.

When he took over 11 months ago, Dunga made a conscious decision to leave Ronaldinho on the bench and give a bit part role to Kaka. Both men were among those who failed to perform during last year's World Cup and Ronaldinho - along with Roberto Carlos and bumbling forward pair Ronaldo and Adriano - was one of those made scapegoat.

Dunga hoped that by marginalizing Ronaldinho for a short while he would show that no player was untouchable and that he was his own man. The new manager was appointed in large part because he was seen as a leader whose sergeant major style would win back the respect of players.

It didn't. It merely angered top class athletes who are so highly valued wherever they go that they are used to getting their own way. They didn't like being pushed around by a clumsy and inexperienced new manager and so, when asked to choose between another summer without a break or a month taking it easy, their decision was easy.

There will be a clamour for Dunga to recall them when the World Cup qualifiers start and it is hard to see how he can keep talents like Ronaldinho and Kaka on the sidelines for long, especially if his replacements continue to falter like they did against Mexico.

Both will surely want to come back. They are top class players who relish performing on the big stage. Their return will make Brazil stronger. But it will make Dunga's position weaker.

Read Andrew Downie's blog on the Copa action here...


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