For four years, he gnarled at all those who thought he had sold the soul of Brazilian football. He kept the prying media at an arm’s length and ignored calls to include Ronaldinho and Alexandre Pato. For Dunga, it was my way or the highway. Now, the knives will be out.
As a player, Dunga was the terrier who — oddly enough — complemented the artistry of Rivaldo, Leonardo, Denilson, Romario and Bebeto, bringing to the samba a sense of defensive discipline in keeping with someone of Italian and German descent.
He was the leader who didn’t think twice before publicly chiding Roberto Carlos for trying an extravagant scissor-kick, which led to Brian Laudrup scoring for Denmark in the 1998 World Cup quarterfinal.
Appointed coach eight years after his last World Cup match, Dunga showed he hadn’t changed. He managed to win the Copa America in 2007 and lost only six of the 68 matches in charge, including eight games with the Brazil Olympic team.
“You taught the team so many things, didn’t you teach our team what to do when they are trailing,” the interrogator was almost pleading on Friday evening. “I teach teams to win, not lose,” Dunga replied.
He evidently didn’t teach them well enough, Brazil will now feel. In a country where, according to an O Globo journalist, nothing less than a World Cup runners-up slot — that too only against the home team — is deemed satisfactory, Dunga will be judged a failure. “We failed to achieve our main objective, which is to be the world champions,” he conceded, head bowed, after the quarterfinal against The Netherlands.
What will surely rankle is that Brazil lost because of the discipline with which they protected their goal — the hallmark of Dunga’s reign as coach — deserted them after half-time on Friday. Felipe Melo’s indiscreet leap before Julio Cesar was totally out of sync with the Brazil team that shut out the Dutch for the first 45 minutes and conceded goals against
North Korea and Ivory Coast only when the game was up.
But as Holland threw everything they had, Dunga’s Brazil, uncharacteristically, got rattled. “Many of these players looked to the World Cup as a great opportunity and maybe that’s why a certain degree of nervousness crept in,” Dunga said. Between the Zinedine Zidane-inspired mauling in Frankfurt four years ago and Friday, it is difficult to remember when they last felt like this.
When Arjen Robben provoked the sixth sending-off in Melo’s career, the Brazlian implosion was complete.
“Well, obviously, if you play with 10 players against a quality team like Holland, it doesn’t help. At half-time, we did comment about the referee giving yellow cards. It is only the players on the pitch who have a better notion of this,” Dunga said.
And what of him now? “When I took this job, I knew it was for four years,” he said, seeming to suggest that this indeed is it for the proud player who has been a World Cup winner and runner-up in four years.