Group G: Brazil
A sixth World Cup is within Brazil's grasp Ã¢ÂÂ with or without beautiful football.
Forget everything youÃ¢ÂÂve ever heard about Brazil. Drop the beautiful game clichÃÂ©s, skip the image of a symphony of samba virtuosos, leave behind the previous World Cup memories of triumphs Ã¢ÂÂ and failures. For better or worse, masterfully conducted by novice coach Dunga they rely, perhaps for the first time in history, on the collective rather than the individual. It had to happen someday Ã¢ÂÂ even to Brazil: the stars are there, but the supporting cast has finally taken centre stage.
Dunga took over in 2006, just after the fiasco in Germany, where the hype around the Brazilians had reached unprecedented levels. Combining the winning generation of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Cafu and Roberto Carlos with top prospects like Kaka and Robinho, Brazil were again the team to beat. But they were beaten by their own errors, most notably sloppy preparation, which allowed players to practice at their own will. Sergeant DungaÃ¢ÂÂs first assignment was to make sure this would never happen again.
The new coach started to create a squad at his own image: raw, hard-working, spirited Ã¢ÂÂ but not exactly beautiful. In next to no time, a breed of blue-collar players took the national team by storm Ã¢ÂÂ people like Elano, Julio Baptista, Josue and Felipe Melo. This immediately put Dunga in the line of fire, just as it had done in his playing days, when Ã¢ÂÂDopeyÃ¢ÂÂ was synonymous with ugly football. Triumph at the 2007 Copa America temporary silenced the critics, but they were back after the 2008 Olympic Games, where Brazil could only manage bronze, leaving DungaÃ¢ÂÂs tenure hanging by a thread.
Ultimately, the Brazilian Football Confederation decided to back the coach. DungaÃ¢ÂÂs squad are rarely brilliant but their efficiency canÃ¢ÂÂt be questioned, after they cruised through World Cup qualifying, won the 2009 Confederations Cup and won a series of friendlies against Italy, Argentina, Portugal and England.
In each of those triumphs, fan favourites Kaka and Robinho were less of a factor than the defensive dominance and leadership of Lucio, the consistency of Julio Cesar in goal and Luis FabianoÃ¢ÂÂs unerring finishing skills. No wonder Ronaldo or Adriano were unable to get a look in Ã¢ÂÂ and no Ronaldinho either.
Ã¢ÂÂTo choose a few players between so many talents is one of the toughest things about the job. But I set up a group in which I believe. With this group of players, I can promise hard work and total commitment,Ã¢ÂÂ said Dunga.
Kits featuring Kaka and RobinhoÃ¢ÂÂs names flood BrazilÃ¢ÂÂs streets but itÃ¢ÂÂs going to be the unsung, less marketed heroes who will decide this Brazilian teamÃ¢ÂÂs place in history Ã¢ÂÂ for better or worse.
The defence. You read it right: defence. BrazilÃ¢ÂÂs perennial AchillesÃ¢ÂÂ heel has been mastered under Dunga. Goalkeeper Julio CÃÂ©sar brings the security that has been absent since 2002 World Cup winner Marcos retired. Lucio and Juan comprise one of the most reliable partnerships in Selecao history. On the right, the gaffer can choose between Maicon and Dani Alves. BrazilÃ¢ÂÂs defensive midfielders, although individually questionable, provide protection for the defenders as part of a now tried and tested system.
Key players under Dunga, Kaka and Robinho have endured rollercoaster seasons. The former has been considered something of a flop at Real Madrid, a far cry from the World Player of the Year we saw in 2007. The stepover king, meanwhile, never showed his full potential in Europe and had to return to Santos to rediscover his old swagger. If both bring their club form into the national team, Dunga needs to act quickly and courageously Ã¢ÂÂ benching Kaka, for instance, wonÃ¢ÂÂt be the most popular decision. Good job popularity has never been his priority.
Brazil find themselves in the Group of Death and could well be the biggest casualty of them all. The last time they failed to make it past the group stages was in 1966...
The Coach: Dunga
A wild punt from the Brazilian Football Confederation, Dunga, who had never had a coaching job before taking over the national team, has survived the critics and earned the respect of the fans. They might not agree with the 1994 World Cup-winning captainÃ¢ÂÂs ideas or selections, but his results back them up.
Key Player: Lucio
A record sixth triumph would also mean a second World Cup win for Lucio, who is now captain after playing every game in 2002.
Probable Team (4-2-3-1): Julio Cesar; Maicon, Lucio, Juan, Andre Santos; Gilberto Silva, Felipe Melo; Ramires, Kaka, Nilmar; Luis Fabiano
North Korea, June 15, 7.30pm, Johannesburg
Ivory Coast, Ã¢ÂÂ¨June 20, 7.30, Johannesburg
Portugal, June 25, 3pm, Durban
Qualified Top of CONMEBOLÃ¢ÂÂ¨
Colombia (A) 0-0Ã¢ÂÂ¨
Ecuador (H) 5-0
Peru (A) 1-1
Ã¢ÂÂ¨Uruguay (H) 2-1
Ã¢ÂÂ¨Paraguay (A) 0-2
Ã¢ÂÂ¨Argentina (H) 0-0
Ã¢ÂÂ¨Chile (A) 3-0
Ã¢ÂÂ¨Bolivia (H) 0-0
Ã¢ÂÂ¨Venezuela (A) 4-0
Colombia (H) 0-0
Ã¢ÂÂ¨Ecuador (A) 1-1
Ã¢ÂÂ¨Peru (H) 3-0
Ã¢ÂÂ¨Uruguay (A) 4-0
Paraguay (H) 2-1
Ã¢ÂÂ¨Argentina (A) 3-1
Ã¢ÂÂ¨Chile (H) 4-2
Ã¢ÂÂ¨Bolivia (A) 1-2
Ã¢ÂÂ¨Venezuela (H) 0-0
World Cup record
1930 1st Round
1934 1st Round
1966 1st Round
1974 Fourth Place
1978 Third Place
1982 2nd Round
1990 Second Round