Brazil on course for Copa America crown after World Cup chaos
When 2002 World Cup winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari failed to deliver the global crown again in Brazi’s backyard last summer, there were casualties.
‘Big Phil’ was chief among them, but successor and former Samba Boys skipper Dunga also axed a number of players that failed to perform so spectacularly when put up against Europe’s elite.
Getting smashed 7-1 by Germany in the semi-finals (relive below) and then beat 3-0 by the Netherlands in the third-place play-off was galling, but Brazil have since rallied to win all eight of their Copa America preparation friendlies.
This magnificent recovery and tasty odds of 10/3 with Coral to regain their continental crown are in no small part down to Dunga’s changes. Some of the culling was done for him via announcements of international retirements from goalie Julio Cesar, target man Fred and late comer left back Maxwell.
Only the former is a miss in all honesty with other keepers lacking the ex-Inter Milan and QPR stopper’s pedigree and experience. Cesar is now on Benfica’s books and only 35, but Dunga appears confident enough in former understudy Jefferson (Botafogo) to stick with him as number one.
In defence, Dani Alves, Dante and Maicon, who all flopped horribly on home soil, alongside Premier League midfield trio Lucas Leiva, Paulinho and Ramires have been dropped. Inter playmaker Hernanes hasn’t got a look-in either, while the diminutive Bernard, Hulk (Zenit St Petersburg) and Jo are all absent from attacking areas.
You can clearly see the scale and sweeping nature of Dunga’s changes, and yet he has given others opportunities to prove themselves. Defensive duo David Luiz and Marcelo are notable examples, alongside midfield pair Fernandinho and Luiz Gustavo.
Another advantage of culling some of those culpable for Brazil’s embarrassment is it has created openings for new faces and those on the fringes. Eyebrows were raised when Scolari opted against selecting La Liga winners Filipe Luis and Joao Miranda, but these former Atletico Madrid teammates are squad members and sometimes starters under Dunga.
Danilo (pictured above), soon to be opposite full back Marcelo’s colleague for both club and country, is the new broom bound for the Bernabeu, after emerging as a key player in Porto’s run to the Champions League quarter-finals where they handed a real gauntlet down to Bayern Munich.
Uncapped Monaco man Fabinho and versatile PSG player Marquinhos, whose future looks certain to be at centre half as successor to Thiago Silva, are alternative understudies for this right-sided position in Brazil’s back four. Left-footers Juan Jesus (Inter) and Alex Sandro (Porto) miss out on selection.
In midfield, Dunga has had a look at Real Madrid-owned anchorman Casemiro and Corinthians’ Elias, while Chelsea couple Oscar and Willian remain regulars further forward, though the former has been left out due to injury.
One wildcard that may have been included is the attack-minded Anderson Talisca, who broke into the first-team at Benfica this term, but he must wait to make his senior Samba Boys bow.
Philippe Coutinho’s creativity and stunning strikes for Liverpool this term (see above) have not gone unnoticed either and it appears, with the Brazil attack built around Barcelona star Neymar, Dunga will include one out-and-out centre forward in his thinking.
Shakhtar Donetsk striker Luiz Adriano has missed out to Diego Tardelli, now playing in China. His key goals against Argentina may have swung it and he is a go-to option if the Samba Boys want someone to pin opposition centre halves back.
An alternative tactical nuance has been Neymar benefiting from a false nine with Hoffenheim prized asset Roberto Firmino acting as a foil and central supply line for him.
Lucas Moura (yet another PSG connection) has struggled for fitness on international duty recently and misses out as a result, but there’s another Shakhtar talent, Douglas Costa, waiting to deputise and complete Dunga’s forward options.
And what of the old guard? Robinho and Kaka (pictured below with Neymar) have played cameo roles while Brazil have been on tour, and the latter has been complimentary about Dunga’s work.
“We lost our confidence in the last World Cup but Dunga is doing a very good job now,” Kaka said. “I think I can still play for Brazil and help with my skills and experience, but it does not depend on me.”
It’s Santos loanee Robinho and not Kaka, who is one of seven on standby, that has Copa America experience and pedigree, however, and the former Manchester City and Real Madrid star gets the chance for what looks like an international swansong.
Dunga is building beyond the Copa for the 2018 World Cup in Russia where the Samba Boys are 10/1 chances to triumph, and that is no better evidenced than by a lower average age of his roster.
Brazil squad for Copa America
Goalkeepers: Jefferson (Botafogo), Diego Alves (Valencia), Marcelo Grohe (Gremio)
Defenders: David Luiz, Marquinhos and Thiago Silva (all PSG); Marcelo (Real Madrid), Joao Miranda (Atletico Madrid), Filipe Luis (Chelsea), Danilo (Porto, but moving to Real Madrid this summer), Fabinho (Monaco, on loan from Rio Ave)
Midfielders: Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg), Elias (Corinthians), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Willian (Chelsea), Casemiro (Porto, on loan from Real Madrid), Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool), Everton Ribeiro (Al-Ahli)
Forwards: Neymar (Barcelona), Robinho (Santos, on loan from AC Milan), Diego Tardelli (Shandng Luneng), Douglas Costa (Shakhtar Donetsk), Roberto Firmino (Hoffenheim)
Standby: Neto (Fiorentina), Gil (Corinthians), Rafinha Alcantara (Barcelona), Felipe Anderson (Lazio), Fred Rodrigues (Shakhtar), Kaka (Orlando City), Leandro Damiao (Cruzeiro, on loan from Santos)