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.