Luiz Felipe Scolari called it the worst day of his life and many Brazilians, football fanatics as they tend to be, will feel the same way. The sheer humiliation of a 7-1 “home” defeat by Germany in the World Cup semi-final last summer left deep scars.
Now, under Scolari’s successor Dunga, the long healing process is underway. Brazil go into this afternoon’s friendly at the Emirates against Chile on the back of seven successive victories this season, the latest being an impressive 3-1 success away to France on Thursday. It is the best start by a new Selecao coach since Joao Saldanha in 1969.
Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho, who was substituted at half-time in Belo Horizonte, said at the time that he might never get over the trauma. By yesterday, he was saying: “I think the World Cup is in the past. When Dunga became the new manager of the national team, he changed a lot of things. The most important thing was to get into the head of the players. Our performances have been completely transformed from the World Cup.”
The World Cup caused such consternation – a 3-0 defeat by Holland in the third-place play-off only adding to the misery – that the previously unthinkable notion of employing a foreign coach was considered once Scolari fell on his sword. Given the prevailing mood there was no great enthusiasm for recalling Dunga, 51, even though his first period in charge from 2006-10 was successful by the standards of most countries: 49 wins from 68 matches, winning the 2007 Copa America and 2009 Confederations Cup before losing a lead and a quarter-final 2-1 to Holland in the 2010 World Cup quarter-final.
As the next Copa America does not start until June, none of the games so far have been competitive ones but Dunga has achieved positive results at the same time as revamping the team. “Radical changes don’t usually work,” he said yesterday, “so I’m using players who have World Cup experience alongside some younger ones.”
Nevertheless, only two players who started in the German debacle lined up in Paris, midfielders Luiz Gustavo and Oscar, and both scored. So did Neymar, who had missed the semi-final after suffering a horrible back injury against Colombia in the previous round. Barcelona may be fretting about his recent lack of goals, but he has scored eight times in seven games for Brazil, for a total of 43, and Dunga has backed him to break Pele’s record of 77 goals.
Even better, two forwards have come through to take the weight off Neymar in attack, allowing him greater freedom to roam Messi-style. Diego Tardelli, one of an increasing number of Brazilians now in the Chinese Super League, was largely ignored by Scolari but rewarded Dunga, who first capped him in 2009, by scoring both goals in the 2-0 win over greatest rivals Argentina in October. In the 29-year-old’s current absence through injury, Roberto Firmino of Hoffenheim in Germany, 23, is beginning to look the part; having scored a fine winning goal as a late substitute away to Austria in November, he was given a full debut against France and made the equaliser for Oscar.
Either looks a better option than the hapless Fred, whose announcement in October that he had not retired from international football after all was mocked on social media with pictures of Brazil fans crying in the street.
Arsenal supporters will hope to see a debut for their new centre-half Gabriel Paulista, who would be up against Chile’s Alexis Sanchez. As well as a re-run of the World Cup second-round match that Brazil won on penalties, the game is being billed as a clash between former Barcelona club-mates Neymar and Sanchez. The former looks to have the better supporting cast, and after all the summertime blues, an eighth successive win would be a further step towards psychological recovery.
Brazil’s results since World Cup
6 Sept 2014: Brazil 1 (Neymar) Columbia 0
10 Sept: Brazil 1 (Willian) Ecuador 0
11 Oct: Argentina 0 Brazil 2 (Tardelli 2)
14 Oct: Brazil 4-0 Japan (Neymar 4)
12 Nov: Turkey 0 Brazil 4 (Neymar 2, Kaya og, Willian)
18 Nov: Austria 1 Brazil 2 (Dragovic pen; David Luiz, Firmino)
26 Mar 2015: France 1 Brazil 3 (Oscar, Neymar, Luiz Gustavo)Reuse content