As we prepare for the Selecao's clash against Portugal, labelled the biggest game of the 2010 World Cup's group phase, the buzz in Brazil goes three ways.
1. Kaka's replacementThe unfair red card for "God's kid" against Ivory Coast turned into reality one of the hottest pre-tournament debates: who would fill in for Kaka if the Madrid ace wasn't available for some reason? (People just didn't expect that it would came because of a suspension...)
The country asked for Ronaldinho. Or Juve's Diego. Or Fenerbahce's Alex. Dunga called up Julio Baptista. Period.
So, for me, there's not much surprise on this one. For the gaffer, Julio Baptista is the man to feed the attack, with an extra effort from Robinho - which won't be that much extra, actually, since Robinho was already going back a lot to the midfield to help the struggling Kaka in the first two Selecao matches.
Obviously, Julio Baptista is not the most talented player at the National Team. But he earned his place fair and square. The big names didn't click - and Julio Baptista, quietly working hard, became of Dunga's most loyal soldiers. It was Baptista who supported Robinho in the 2007 Copa America, when Kaka and Ronaldinho asked out - and he opened the scoring in the 3-0 final rout of Argentina.
A personal bet here: with Julio Baptista and without Kaka, Brazil will play their best game so far in South Africa - against their strongest opponents yet.
2. Elano's replacementA victim of the Ivory Coast violence - and I was surprised that some friends on the FourFourTwo live coverage thought the tackle on him was clean - Elano will sit out the Portugal match. He deserves the rest: he has been one of the Selecao foundations, playing fine sweaty football on a regular basis.
Ramires would be his natural replacement. (That's Dunga's way: for each starter, there is a sub.) But, surprise surprise! In yesterday's 'secret' practice, the coach tested Daniel Alves in the former Man City player's place. I can't explain the improvisation, since reports from South Africa say that Ramires is flying high in training, and the Benfica ace is a born midfielder.
We'll know the chosen one only right before the match - but I'm fine either way.
3. Dunga's bad temperThe coach muttered some swearwords towards a Brazilian journalist during the press conference following the Ivory Coast game. It was completely unnecessary, of course, not to mention unbefitting to his position.
But it's not new that Dunga has been on a personal crusade against Brazilian football press. In fact, it started way back, in his playing days. They hit Dunga, he hits back. And I don't see anyone breaking the cycle. So we'll live with it.
One last note... Brazil facing Portugal means that memories of the 1966 World Cup game are being recycled. In Brazil, it's more known as the day Pele was hunted alive. Watch it here, but not in front of the kids - compared to this, the Ivory Coast game was soft.
I just heard some interviews of those Portuguese players, and was surprised to hear the grey-haired fellas keep claiming they didn't used any violence against the King. "He was already injuredÃ¢ÂÂ" said Eusebio. Oh. Portugal was a better squad, Eusebio's form was magical; there's no need for that. It's been almost 50 years since that clash - couldn't they drop this nonsense?