Brazil’s new cap­tain on Messi, Suarez, and how to shoul­der the hopes of a foot­ball-ob­sessed na­tion


The other, even more sig­nif­i­cant, change is that Brazil no longer have to deal with the pres­sure of play­ing a World Cup at home. It is all very well to point to Dunga’s eight wins; go­ing into Brazil 2014 pre­de­ces­sor Luiz Felipe Sco­lari’s had won nine a row, scor­ing 30 and con­ced­ing only two. A num­ber of con­clu­sions can be draw from this; one, pos­si­bly, is that the counter-at­tack­ing style of con­tem­po­rary Brazil­ian foot­ball is more suited to play­ing away from home. An­other is that tour­na­ments have their own dy­namic – things hap­pen dur­ing World Cups that would prob­a­bly not oc­cur out­side the con­di­tions they cre­ate. And one cer­tainty – that friendlies are no­to­ri­ously un­re­li­able guides.

Dunga, for­ever look­ing anx­iously over his shoul­der, has treated his friendlies as if each one were a World Cup nal. Against France he made ve sub­sti­tu­tions in­side the last ten min­utes, with the sole aim of pro­tect­ing his side’s lead by eat­ing up as much time as pos­si­ble. Then, against Chile, his men com­mit­ted 32 fouls (more than dou­ble the num­ber of the op­po­si­tion) to dis­rupt the rhythm of the game, and scored from their one clear-cut chance.

This has all come in the silly sea­son of South Amer­i­can foot­ball – the year af­ter the World Cup where there are noth­ing but friendlies. Clown time is over, though. The Copa Amer­ica kicks off a new cy­cle of com­pet­i­tive games, where things are se­ri­ous for both sides. Soon af­ter­wards come the World Cup qual­i­fiers – ev­ery game against their con­ti­nen­tal ri­vals is a po­ten­tial ba­nana skin – all lead­ing to Rus­sia 2018. A de­feat in one of the big matches would mean that Dunga’s eight friendly wins would be in­stantly forgotten. The World Cup was where Brazil lost pres­tige. The World Cup is the only place Brazil can re­gain it.

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