In 2007 Brazil won the Copa America in dramatic style against arch-rivals Argentina. It was nail-biting stuff, and also ugly from Brazil. Dunga considered Argentina's left-back to be frail and built his game plan around the supposed weakness. Brazil countered with such precision that the glaring hole in the Argentinian rearguard was exploited.
Brazil went on to lift America’s most coveted cup and the Brazilians journalists applauded Dunga at the press conference after the game. It was a bewildering gesture for the victory was achieved by betraying Brazil’s fundamental footballing principles. Winning in pragmatic fashion has always been the cornerstone of Dunga’s philosophy, and it will be no different at this year’s Copa America in Chile.
The tournament will prove a bigger challenge for Dunga than it did in 2007. His football dogma’s remain the same, but will Dunga have matured as a coach in terms of personality? The answer will reveal how suitable Dunga is for the top job in Brazilian football.
In 2007 the Copa America served as a thorough warmup and a laboratory for South American teams to prepare for the grueling and most competitive world cup qualifying campaign, a marathon of eighteen matches home and away. Brazil went on to qualify with ease for the finals in South Africa in 2010, but the form displayed in the qualifiers turned out be misleading as Brazil self-inflicted a dramatic defeat against the Netherlands in the quarter-finals.
In 2015 the strength in-depth of the South American teams will be at it highest level ever. In the past two World Cups all participating representatives from South America progressed to the round of sixteen, with the exception of Ecuador, who missed out by a whisker in Brazil after a key loss at the hands of Switzerland.
Simply put, there are no teams in this Copa America that may be deemed a walkover for Brazil. Host Chile is playing with its golden generation that bamboozled Spain and nearly eliminated Brazil at its own party last summer. Colombia should be able to welcome back Radamel Falcao to its ranks if the long Premier League season with Manchester United permits so. Then there are the traditional powerhouses Argentina and Uruguay. Only invitee Jamaica qualifies as lightweight.
Dunga will not alter his game plan and he will stick to his organized football that so often leaves so little to the imagination. He will mould the team the way he wants it and probably try to address Brazil’s over-reliance on Neymar. One should not except a footballing revolution from Dunga. His appointment was always questionable for the development of Brazilian football, but if Brazil’s coach wants to prove his critics wrong he must do so on the sidelines.
Dunga was guilty of emotional instability in Port Elizabeth and thus was a culprit in Brazil’s elimination at the 2010 World Cup. He had already fought a war with Brazil’s TV Globo in South Africa and viciously muttered foul words to Brazilian journalist Andres Escobar at the press conference after the game against Ivory Coast. It was a sight ill-befitting any coach at the international top level, but, moreover, it showed a man on the brink of a nervous breakdown.
That then became apparent against Holland in the quarter-finals. When Brazil were trailing through goals of Felipe Melo and Wesley Sneijder, the team did not have a plan B. It was a real test for Brazil, who under Dunga had had a near-perfect record. Dunga shouted and swore on the touchline and almost demolished the dug-out in anger. He transmitted his emotions to the team, who lost haplessly.
The question of Dunga’s mental mindset remains actual. In October last year Brazil and Argentina were cashing in again with one of their ‘Super Classicos das Americas’ in Beijing when Dunga was caught by SporTv’s camera abusing the opposing assistant coach Jorge Pautasso. It was an ordinary spat.
Dunga was dressed in a grayish suit, black tie and a white shirt. His trademark grimness marked his facial expression. Then he gave Pautasso the cocaine nose gesture. Dunga explained it was intended for the masseur, but he looked like a seriously derailed street fighter. Pautasso and Martino turned their back on him in disgust. The incident once again highlighted Dunga’s lack of emotional control.
At the Copa America in June Dunga will have to face the pressure of competitive football again and live a month with Brazil’s intrusive 24/7 media. That has been an explosive combination in the past. Dunga must prove he is becoming a man reformed or, no matter what, sooner or later another emotional collapse could cost Brazil dearly.