Brazil Stay Focused – Argentina Look Muddled

Dunga’s announcement of his Brazil squad for South Africa was a crushing defeat for the nation’s media in one of its favourite sports – trying to force the inclusion of big names players on to the plane for this summer’s World Cup. But it was the perceived excesses of Brazil’s stars that undermined their campaign in Germany in 2006 and paved the way for Dunga’s appointment. He took over with a message that individuals might win matches but groups win titles. Over three and half years later, coherence has been maintained.
Before the squad was announced, clips were shown of some of Brazil’s recent triumphs. Then came a declaration for Kaka, paying tribute to the spirit of union of the current team. It was a giant hint that there would be no last-minute surprises. So no place for Ronaldinho. On form and in shape, he would surely be a useful one-man Plan B to have on the bench but he can hardly complain of lack of opportunities. Dunga carried him around for almost three years before finally losing patience.

It is a tough thing to say but the only person responsible for Ronaldinho’s absence is Ronaldinho himself. At 30, he should be an automatic choice but he has spent the last few years betraying his own extraordinary talent.? Ronaldinho may have been the focus of international attention but the local media had switched generations in its campaign, piling on the pressure in favour of the Santos pair of support striker Neymar, 18, and attacking midfielder Paulo Henrique Ganso, 20.

For all the undoubted promise of Neymar and Ganso, there are elements of nationalistic delirium in this movement. The pair were outstanding in the Sao Paulo State Championship but this is a bit like selecting someone for a World Cup on the basis of some good games in the Carling Cup. Significantly, and Dunga was quick to pick up on it, the pair struggled towards the end of last year when asked to step up a level. Ganso was a relative disappointment in the World Under-20 Cup while Neymar was an absolute disappointment in the World Under-17s.

Their time will come but, as he made clear, Dunga is not in the business of giving anyone experience for 2014 but is being paid to win the World Cup now. And, of course, one more new face would mean one less space for a group of players who have earned the right to be in South Africa.

Whatever we might think of his approach, Dunga can point to the results achieved. In the last two seasons, Brazil have won 18 of 23 games, suffering only one defeat, which came at extreme altitude. Adriano has been part of that process but he, too, misses out. He is another one, though, who can have no complaints. He received support and opportunities from Dunga and assistant Jorginho.

After his problems with depression and alcohol, Adriano was allowed to play his way back into contention, according to information received by admin Blog Andalas Comunity. A squad place was his. He has thrown it away by repeatedly not turning up to train with his club, Flamengo, as well as his off-the-field antics. As Dunga said, if he let Adriano get away it he would be running the risk of losing command of the group. This focus on the collective underpins everything that Dunga does. It explains the eminently sensible position to name his 23 straight away (seven reserves, including Ronaldinho and Ganso, were added later). Other teams still have to whittle down from 30 – a traumatic process that jangles nerves and threatens to undermine morale at a crucial stage.

One of them is Argentina. It is hardly surprising that coach Diego Maradona is not as far down the line as Dunga in terms of consolidating his group. He has had much less time in charge – and it is often forgotten that he took over a team in trouble, which with one win in the previous seven games was already struggling to qualify. Maradona got them over the line and would seem to have made progress since. It is highly likely that his planned starting line-up in South Africa will be the team that won away to Germany some two months ago. From the chaos of the qualification campaign, a first XI and a general method of play has emerged.

But the rest of his party looks a bit of a mess. It speaks volumes that Brazil named their 23 in a well prepared and orderly fashion while Argentina apparently needed a lengthy last-day meeting to finalise the 30. Under Maradona, Argentina have toured the country playing a number of matches with only home-based players. This has the advantage of taking the team to the provinces and of giving Maradona more experience on the touchline but it also might have cluttered his head with excess information. He has been looking at more players when he might well have benefited from narrowing down.

Ten of his 30 are based in Argentina. Boca’s lumbering centre forward Martin Palermo looks set to stay in the 23. But can he really make an impact at the World Cup? And is he needed as well as Higuain and Milito? It means someone has to miss out – probably Lavezzi of Napoli, such a slippery player on the counter-attack. At the other end of the field, Garce of Colon is in while Zanetti of Inter Milan is out – a baffling defiance of common sense. There are lots of wide midfielders but the area that looks especially deficient is central midfield. Fernando Gago’s lack of playing time with Real Madrid has cost him a place while Maradona is not a fan of Esteban Cambiasso, who, in fairness, was one of the least effective members in the side before he took over.

To my mind, the strangest omission is that of Ever Banega, a midfielder of superb passing range who can drop back and mark. He would be an ideal deputy for Juan Sebastian Veron, who at 35 might struggle for gas. Brazil’s choices, then, are methodical, well thought out, coherent. Some of Argentina’s look scattergun, products of whims of inspiration. And the wonderful thing is that neither guarantee results – football has never been an exact science.

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