They say a World
However such expectations had not reckoned on Korea shocking the world with a brilliantly tenacious and spirited first-half display and the most unlikely of goals two minutes from time through Ji Yu-Nam. The performance illustrated just why Brazilian supporters have found Dunga’s 2010 vintage so hard to love. Brazil won comfortably enough, not withstanding Ji’s consolation goal, courtesy of a Douglas Maicon fluke and a neat Elano finish from an exquisite Robinho pass, but in truth there wasn’t much in this viewing to get the heart fluttering. The suspicion amongst the Dunga’s sterner critics is that there is no plan B for the former World Cup-winning captain. Where opponents sit deep and challenge the Selecao to break them down, as Korea DPR did, Brazil struggle – preferring their deadly-counter attacking game and potent set-pieces.
The line-up selected by Dunga could have been predicted before Brazil had even touched down in South Africa. The expected back-five were screened by Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo, while former Manchester City-duo Robinho and Elano patrolled the flanks in support of Kaka and Luis Fabiano. It is true that no one can argue with the experience and quality of the majority of the starting XI, but many will wonder whether the rigidity of the line-up was necessary given the modest nature of the opposition. Korea DPR for all their admirable spirit are a full 104 places below their Group G opponents, so the question of whether the Brazilians needed two defensive midfielders and just one forward remains a pertinent one. The Koreans lined up with a back-five, four midfielders and golden boy Jong Tae-Se ploughing a lone furrow upfront. As such the onus was always going to be on the Brazilians to break down their stubborn opponents with a quick tempo and plenty of width in an attempt to shift the well-drilled Koreans. However, their first-half performance was a masterclass in how to play into the opposition’s hands.
With the exception of the lively Robinho, where Brazilian football at its best is characterised as slow, slow, fast – the famous yellow shirts were just slow, slow, slow. With both Elano and Robinho not what could be described as natural wide men, the centre of the pitch contained up to ten players at any one time as Korean defenders chased and harried the likes of Luis Fabiano, Kaka and the former City-men. In such instances, the full-backs have often provided the much-needed outlet, but Maicon seemed strangely inhibited compared to the man who bosses the Inter Milan right flank, while Bastos is a midfielder rather than full-back for his side Lyon. Quite why Barcelona’s Maxwell didn’t get a look in for this squad is anyone’s guess given his fantastic season for the La Liga champions. Alternatively, a breaking midfielder from the central positions can offer a different threat to opponents – moving between defensive and attacking lines – but this isn’t in the make-up of either Melo or the former Gunner Gilberto Silva.
While all of this will be of mild concern, most worrying of all will be the overall performance of the world’s second most expensive player of all time, Kaka. Once again the man entrusted with the sacred number ten shirt resembled the Kaka of Madrid rather than Milan. It’s no secret that the playmaker hasn’t enjoyed his first campaign in the Spanish capital. A spate of injuries has curtailed the sharpness in his game and overall threat to the opposition. Against Korean DPR, too often he was crowded out by admittedly tight marking, while his passing lacked the crispness and vision that Fabiano would have appreciated in his lone-striker role. It’s early days in a competition that Brazil are masters at peaking for, but nonetheless Dunga will be desperate for his talisman to play his way back in form given the lack of inspiration on offer, Robinho aside.
Ultimately the Selecao are up and running in the competition with a win, and with Portugal and Ivory Coast drawing in the earlier tie, they sit pretty at the top of group G. However, with emphasis on defence in the early part of the tournament to date, Brazil will be set plenty more quizzes that they will have to provide the answer to if they are to claim the title on a fifth different continent..