One last look back at what ifs for Dunga

Only two days remain before Dunga’s call-up and though I love to pick my own teams as much as any Brazilian, I always settle on a pragmatic approach ahead of the cup. I’m not one to lobby for surprise inclusions or to drop X or Y player in favor of the flavor of the month. Before I retire my wishes though and focus on Dunga’s 23 and how they’ll look in the World Cup, let me share with you some of the more interesting what ifs I’ve gone over in my mind.

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Continue Reading May 9, 2010 at 9:37 pm Leave a comment

Pra Frentre Brasil!

As Dunga’s tenure began and he demonstrated the same trouble in breaking down defensive opponents that I and other fans have suffered through for over a decade, I criticized and hoped he’d find versatility in midfield. I do not want two purely defensive midfielders and two purely offensive midfielders. Though Dunga’s team has still found trouble in qualifiers against defensive sides, he has evolved a system that while nominally a 4-4-2 is much more dedicated to a versatile midfield than it is to a box midfield.

Click continue reading for more on Dunga’s system including some links to great analysis by zonalmarking.net

Continue Reading May 3, 2010 at 8:59 am Leave a comment

Predicting Brazil’s call-up

Dunga has said he will call up his 23 on May 11th, even though he is only required to submit a preliminary list of 30 players.  Here’s a late-night write-up that should help you pick the squad yourself and impress your friends!

The starting line-up:

Julio Cesar; Maicon, Lucio, Juan; Gilberto Silva, Felipe Melo, Ramires, Kaka; Luis Fabiano, Robinho

You’ll notice that’s 10 players, which leads to the next category.

Left-back du jour: pick two from Michel Bastos, Filipe Luis, Andre Santos.  If Filipe Luis does not come back strong from injury, that makes the choice easy.  Chances are Michel Bastos is first choice regardless.  We’re now at twelve.

Locks that will sit: Daniel Alves, Luisao, Elano, Nilmar.  That makes sixteen, with keepers naturally next but instead, let me add an intermediate category:

If they started for their clubs they’d be locks but they don’t so if they’re called up people will say “WTF, those guys ride the pine every week for Roma, how did they make the Brazil team?”:  Doni, Julio Baptista.  If these two make it, that’s eighteen and while it would surprise outside observers, I doubt it would surprise most who follow Brazil closely.

We now need five more, possibly six or seven if the Roma pine isn’t good enough for Dunga anymore.  The third keeper could be any of Victor, Diego, Helton or Gomes.  If Doni doesn’t make it (cross your fingers!) pick two, if he does, pick one.

We now need to figure out the fourth defender.  Thiago Silva and Miranda are the choices.  Flip a coin.  Bias it to Thiago Silva if you can.  Time then to fill out the midfield, let’s do it the Brazilian way – call the defensive ones “volantes” and the offensive-ish ones “meias”.  Volantes will probably include Josué and maybe one more.  Meias will include Julio Baptista or Ronaldinho Gaucho.  Let’s call it twenty-one at this point, say JB is in and RG is not.  Who’s the last forward?  The answer is Adriano with the caveat that he’s shot himself in the foot so often that what should’ve been a lock is very uncertain now.

So let’s say we have a final 22 and I honestly can’t figure out the 8th midfielder:

Julio Cesar, Doni, Gomes; Daniel Alves, Maicon; Juan, Lucio, Luisao, Thiago Silva; Michel Bastos, Andre Santos; Gilberto Silva, Felipe Melo, Josue; Kaka, Elano, Ramires, Julio Baptista; Luis Fabiano, Nilmar,  Robinho, Adriano

Let’s call these probables and set the next two levels to outsiders and long-shots (although one of those will have to make the final 23).

Keepers: Helton, Victor, Diego

Central Defender: Miranda (long-shot: Cris)

Left Back: Filipe Luis

Mids: Mineiro, Lucas, Ronaldinho, Kleberson, Carlos Eduardo (longshots: Sandro, Fabio Simplicio, Alex, Ganso, Tardelli, Diego Souza)

Forwards: Hulk, Grafite (long-shots: Pato, Neymar)

As ever, the longer the list becomes the more speculative it gets.  Some of these are just guys who got call-ups in 2009 and limited playing time.  Neymar and Ganso would be big surprises and while Dunga has said there won’t be any surprises some journalists speculate they may nonetheless make the squad (I won’t go into the rationalizations they use here).  The more you look at the list of probables the harder it is to see a long-shot sneaking in.  Dunga has done his homework and he’s not likely to change things at the last minute.

April 25, 2010 at 11:51 pm Leave a comment

I found some jogo bonito

How would you characterize the following play? Brazil’s number 10, alone amid several green shirts, finds the center-forward with his back to goal. The center-forward meets the pass and one-touches it back, the number 10 drifts left as he receives it and defenders close in, the left-winger drifts in to fill the open space in the middle. A smart back-heel pass into the wingers path leaves him facing the goal, he releases quickly to the center-forward, runs into the box, gets a back-heel pass right into his path again and, where minutes ago 3 yellow shirts were outnumbered and unmoving, now the winger sits alone facing the keeper and side-foots home an easy goal.

Would you call it beautiful?

Continue Reading April 24, 2010 at 4:48 am Leave a comment

Learning what Brazil is all about

Talk of Brazil, both in Brazilian and foreign media, suffers from so many cliché’s and stereotypes that I want to start from my perspective. A perspective at once grounded in reality but discovered by the hopeful child. Hopefully I can set aside platitudes and connect to what it means, through my eyes, to watch Brazil.

Continue Reading April 20, 2010 at 8:05 am Leave a comment

… and the rest of the world.

Asia has already seen its 4 spots decided with only its playoff spot left.  Saudi Arabia and Bahrain will meet and I expect Saudi Arabia will move on to face New Zealand.  Australia, Japan and South Korea met expectations by making it in while North Korea has provided the surprise this time around and will play in the World Cup for the first time since 1966.  The biggest qustion though will be whether any of these teams will make it out of the first round.  Certainly they can and it depends on the draw, but outside of 2002 Asia has not seen much success in World Cups.  Curiously, North Korea has a quarter-final performance on their resume but I doubt anyone will predict a repeat.

Africa now have their chance at pushing their teams to the next level with a home World Cup.  Since Cameroon 1990 we have been expecting a major breakthrough but the breakthroughs have limited themselves to the Olympic level.  Before any team gets their chance though they have to get through a draw that can be as dangerous as Europe.  This time around Morocco, Cameroon and Togo, all recent qualifiers, share a group.  Tunisia and Nigeria also share a group, while Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire have relatively easy groups ahead of a repeat appearance.  Algeria and Egypt highlight a group made of teams that have not qualified recently.

No matter who qualifies though will they really have home advantage?  The most succesful Asian teams in 2002 were the two hosts.  South Africa should expect to get to the second round here, but will North African or West African teams really feel like a home team in 2010?  We’ll see.  I certainly don’t have much insight into the whole continent’s excitement over the World Cup but I think there will be a boost to those African teams that have been here before.  I doubt it will be enough to push them past teams with worldwide appeal like Brazil, Italy, Argentina or Germany, all things being equal.

I’m eager to see whether Africa will see its strongest teams qualify.  Nigeria, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon are easy ways of finding the group of death, will we see that many potential groups of death?

July 20, 2009 at 1:32 am Leave a comment

Europe, drawing dead.

CONMEBOL has the toughest qualifying cycle of all yet there’s a far greater chance big teams will fail to qualify in Europe.  It’s all about the format each conference chooses, the number of teams they can qualify and finally, the draw.

Thanks to an easy draw the Netherlands became the first team to qualify for 2010, but is that really good for a nation that wants to challenge?  Meanwhile France probably wish they had been drawn into a different group, but they might have been just as susceptible to upsets by Switzerland or Ireland as they have been to the teams in their group.  Portugal and the Czech Republic are also notable teams that have stumbled and may not recover in time; even if they do they may have to play-off against each other or a France or Croatia.

If you simply look over the tables the biggest surprise might be Hungary.  It’s quite something to see them with a shot at qualifying again for the first time since 1986 and while they won’t remind anyone of 1954 it’s always nice to see some variety in the nations that do make it.

If you can’t tell yet from my previous short recaps, I hate predictions.  They’re tempting and hard to avoid, yet bound to embarrass you now and then.  So I like that UEFA makes predictions impossible in one way – the second-placed teams are randomly drawn against each other.  Let me say I expect most of these stumbling big teams – France, the Czech Republic and yes, even Portugal to make the playoffs.  Disappointed that I have yet to make a bold prediction?  Don’t worry, once the action is near I won’t be able to help myself.  At this distance I get to be pragmatic and go with the safe bets.

Europe will have only 13 teams in the World Cup this coming year and with the smaller numbers come greater chances at upsets.  Such is the cost of playing in Europe as the game expands.  For the fan it adds drama ahead of the big event and keeps you guessing as to who will be this year’s Turkey, Greece or Portugal.  Like CONCACAF, UEFA will fit some games in on August 12, but like CONMEBOL they won’t see a full slate of games till September.  Among the highlights will be Denmark x Portugal and Serbia x France.

July 16, 2009 at 11:40 pm Leave a comment

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