Dunga silences sound of samba

The Emirates plays host as the second favourites for the World Cup take on Ireland tonight. But don’t expect the beautiful game, writes Glenn Moore

The coach's whistle went, the ball was pumped in from deep on the left, a centre-half rose to head goalwards. Another whistle, another dead-ball into the mixer, this time from a deep central position. Then a set play from the right. "It's just like watching Brazil?" It's just like watching Blackburn, more like.

Except it was Brazil. The track-suited whistler in the middle of the Emirates pitch last night, preparing for this evening's friendly against Republic of Ireland, was Dunga, not Sam Allardyce, and the Brazilian coach did not spend much of the session rehearsing set plays because he expects the Irish to deliver a few. This is the new Brazil, like Blackburn, but with brighter shirts.

The comparison is not entirely fair. Rovers have Morten Gamst Pedersen to leaven the mix but Brazil have Kaka, Lucio, Robinho and Dani Alves. It is not, though, the joga bonito we all grew up with and, more to the point, most Brazilians grew up with.

Dunga is an exception. As far as he is concerned coaches are judged on results, not artistic merit. In 1994 he captained the Brazilian team which won the World Cup, atoning for the failures of the spectacular but fragile teams of the Eighties. Brazil were only fitfully thrilling in 1994, never less so than in the soporific final against Italy which ended in penalties after a goalless draw; but they won. "First victory and then a good way of playing," is Dunga's view.

One man who approves is Fabio Capello, who admires the way Dunga learnt the "pragmatism of the Italians" during a six-year sojourn in Serie A. Capello will be at the Emirates tonight, primarily to cast his eye over the World Cup's second favourites (after Spain) and England's prospective semi-final opponents. It is hard not to suspect, though, that he will also welcome a break from dealing with questions about his ex-captain's affair with the ex-partner of his ex-reserve left-back.

What Capello would give for Dunga's problems: the clamour to select Ronaldinho, and the debate as to whether winning is enough, or must it be done in style? The issues are obviously linked, and not just because Dunga regards both as irrelevant distractions. He has said the right things about Ronaldinho, and insists the door is still open, but omitting the 29-year-old from tonight's squad revealed the coach's true sentiments. This is Brazil's dress rehearsal, their only scheduled match before they meet North Korea in Johannesburg on 15 June.

It could be instructive, at least until the substitutes start rolling on. Giovanni Trapattoni is taking the game very seriously. Ireland's Italian manager is planning to field eight of the XI so controversially denied a World Cup place in Paris in November, and Richard Dunne, John O'Shea and Robbie Keane are only absent through injury, though Keane may appear after rejoining the squad last night. "We will start with the experienced players, because to put all the youngsters in against a team like this would be dangerous," Trappatoni said yesterday. "We cannot let such great players as Kaka have too much space."

Ronaldinho could be forgiven for hoping the match exposes some limitations to Brazil's attack. It is possible. Since becoming coach with no previous experience in 2006, Dunga has put together a very impressive body of work but the reservations about style are not just from romantics.

Dunga inherited a Brazilian team which had flopped in the 2006 World Cup with the "Magic Square" (Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka and Adriano) bewitching no one. The side was widely derided as being too slow, and the management regarded as overindulgent of star players. Dunga began by dropping them all. Kaka came off the bench to score a superb individual goal in his first major match, against Argentina at the Emirates, and Dunga has subsequently built his team around the attacking midfielder.

Why Kaka, not Ronaldinho? As well as being a wonderful footballer the highly religious 27-year-old midfielder has a prodigious work ethic on the pitch and an abstemious lifestyle off it, neither attribute readily associated with Ronaldinho. While Dunga indulged the latter to start with, keen to utilise the player's talent, he ran out of patience after a notably ineffective match a year ago with Ronaldinho visibly out of shape as well as out of form. He was given an 87th cap as substitute on April Fool's day, then dropped.

In his absence Dunga perfected a winning formation. A solid defence built around the outstanding Lucio, who mastered Didier Drogba for Internazionale last week, and goalkeeper Julio Cesar; attacking full-backs; two holding midfielders in Felipe Melo of Juventus and the former Arsenal stalwart Gilberto Silva, now 33 and playing in Greece; and a front four featuring Luis Fabiano as the lone striker supported by a triumvirate of Kaka, Robinho, and a "water-carrier", often Elano, who works significantly harder for Brazil than he did for Manchester City. They like to sit back, soak up pressure and hit teams on the counter-attack. There is an emphasis on set pieces, not just the traditional "banana" free-kicks, but the British-style cross aimed at the centre-half's head.

It works. Under Dunga, Brazil have won the Copa America and Confederations Cup, topped the South American World Cup qualifying group, and lost one of their last 23 matches – in Bolivia, when qualification was already assured. In this 20-month period they have defeated the other four regional qualifiers, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, the latter three away from home, beaten Italy twice, England and, by 6-2, Portugal. Tellingly, they have kept 14 clean sheets.

However, Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia and Argentina all achieved goalless draws on Brazilian soil in qualifying, which suggests Brazil can find even average defences hard to break down if they "park the bus". Tostao, the 1970 winner, argues that a team which relies so heavily on counter-attacks and set plays may not possess the cutting edge to open up the very best opposition.

Which brings us back to Ronaldinho. He admits his disappearance from the dancefloors of Milan, and reappearance as a fit and focused athlete, are all about making the World Cup. "I don't see myself sitting out the World Cup," Ronaldinho has said, adding: "If I continue to play as I have these past months, how can Dunga ignore me?"

Well, Dunga has. In the past he said: "I have confidence in him, he's a special player." But when Fabiano pulled out of this squad with injury the coach brought in Grafite, of Wolfsburg, a skilful but also big, physical striker whose only previous cap came in 2005. It is a like-for-like swap, but with Adriano likely to start tonight it still represents a snub to Ronaldinho.

Not that he is alone. Alexandre Pato may have been chosen to model the World Cup kit when it launched last month, but he is not in the squad and neither is Ronaldo despite his rejuvenation at Corinthians.

Is the door closed on this trio? Not necessarily. Adriano has fought his way back after well-publicised problems with drink, which led to his quitting Inter for Flamengo. Midfielder Kleberson and left-back Gilberto, also back in Brazil after failing at Manchester United and Tottenham respectively, have been recalled too. But time is running out. "Some people say I am arrogant," said Dunga last night. "That is not true, some people say only I rule, that is not true, but it is my decisison that counts and if the World Cup started today we would play these players."

Spy games: Other matches Capello will want to keep an eye on this week

*France v Spain

Raymond Domenech, who is trying to persuade the French Federation not to announce his successor before the finals, has recalled Djibril Cissé who has scored heavily since his summer move to Panathinaikos. Cisse says he has matured: "for example, I have stopped doing silly things with my hair."

*Germany v Argentina

Diego Maradona returns to work after his ban for swearing while his German counterpart, Joachim Löw, has suffered a breakdown in talks about a contract extension. The Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Rene Adler plays his first match since being confirmed as Jens Lehmann's long-term successor. The Brazilian-born Stuttgart striker Cacau may start for the Germans.

*Italy v Cameroon

Italian interest surrounds two players not in Monte Carlo, where this match is taking place. Marcello Lippi yesterday confirmed Alessandro Nesta will not be coming out of international retirement for the finals, but refused to say whether he will call up the Brazilian-born Juventus striker Amauri, who will be naturalised tomorrow.

*Portugal v China

Carlos Quieroz has chosen the Chinese to provide a taste of what North Korea, who share their group, may offer.

*Ivory Coast v South Korea

The Emirates is not the only London ground hosting a World Cup warm-up match. Didier Drogba and Ji-sung Park will be at Loftus Road, an appropriate venue for managerless Ivory Coast who last week fired the Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic for failing to win the Africa Cup of Nations.

*Netherlands v US

England's main World Cup group opponents are in Amsterdam to face a Dutch side who will be contenders in South Africa. The Fulham centre-forward Eddie Johnson, on loan in Greece, is a surprise call-up for the Americans but there is no Ruud van Nistelrooy for the Dutch.

*Algeria v Serbia

The Algerians will be looking to regain momentum after their largely disappointing performances at the Africa Cup of Nations in January, when they lost to Egypt, England's opponents this week. Capello's other group rivals, Slovenia, face Qatar.

Emirates Stadium: Probable teams

Brazil

Cesar 1 Maicon 2 Lucio 3 Juan 4 Bastos 5 Gilberto Silva 6 Melo 7 Elano 8 Kaka 9 Robinho 10 Adriano 11

Ireland

Given 1 Kelly 2 McShane 3 St Leger 4 Kilbane 5 Lawrence 6 Whelan 7 Andrews 8 Duff 9 Best 10 Doyle 11

Referee M Dean (Eng)

TV: ITV1 Kick-off 8.05pm

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