JOHANNESBURG – Fans expecting the Beautiful Game may get an unpleasant surprise when Brazil debuts in the World Cup today.
Brazil arrives in South Africa with a different look. The nifty moves and fancy dribbles may not be there. The flashy soccer and attacking style could be missing, too.
Defense comes first, and the “Jogo Bonito” long associated with Brazil gives way to pragmatic soccer.
“I want to win the title,” Brazil right back Maicon said. “Regardless of playing with flair or playing ugly, the most important thing is to win. The most important thing is that on July 11 we are in the final, bringing the trophy home.”
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Coach Dunga revamped Brazil when he took over the team after the 2006 World Cup in Germany, passing over stars such as Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Adriano in favor of lesser-known but harder-working players.
There is still much talent on this Brazilian squad, with Kaka and Robinho still able to produce the dazzling flair that’s a trademark of Brazilian players. But the team has become more European in style, anchored in solid defense and quick counterattacking.
“If you ask anybody, they will prefer to win a match playing badly than lose playing well,” Brazil defender Juan said.
Despite all the stars in Germany, Brazil failed to impress and was eliminated, 1-0, by France in the quarterfinals.
Dunga’s defensive style draws criticism from millions in Brazil and abroad, but indisputable results on the field make the Brazilians favorites to win a sixth world title.
“This national team is well-balanced, and that’s very important in a football team,” Kaka said. “We have some of the best defenders in the world, a strong midfield, and strikers who can be decisive at any moment. Whether we play well will vary from match to match. The biggest show will be to be lifting the trophy at the end. That’s the spectacle we want.”
A former defensive midfielder known for his tenacity and tough marking, Dunga captained Brazil to the 1994 World Cup title in the United States, and was on the team that was runner-up at the 1998 tournament in France.
Brazil also was touted for having great teams in the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, but was eliminated early both times. In 1994, the team was criticized as too boring, but it won the title.
“To win, any team needs to have a solid group,” Dunga said.
Accordingly, the Brazilian defenders have been gaining much of the attention ahead of the World Cup.
The Brazilian defense is led by Inter Milan goalkeeper Julio Cesar, and he is flanked by Maicon, Lucio, Juan and Michel Bastos. The defense actually continues into the midfield, with Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo as specialists at containing attackers. And there is still Elano, who has offensive skills but is known as a good marker.
That leaves the attacking responsibility to Kaka and strikers Robinho and Luis Fabiano, who may end up having to rely heavily on counterattacking.
Playing like that, Brazil won the 2007 Copa America, the 2009 Confederations Cup and finished first in South American qualifying for the World Cup.
“We always try to play well, but that’s not the main goal,” Robinho said. “We want to win.”