Brazil coach Dunga has given the clearest indication yet that there might be no place for the likes of Alexandre Pato, Diego and Ronaldinho in his 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ squad, by praising Grafite, Michel Bastos and Ramires following the 2-0 victory over Republic of Ireland in London last night.
When questioned whether the Italy-based trio would feature in his 23-man party, the USA 1994-winning captain cast doubt on the merits of picking players on past glories rather than current form.
"Pele was once the best player in the world. I played once as well. Players come and players go," he said. "We have the team decided but we need certain things defined. We have to work with 23 players, we have to create our sqaud and know which players we can swap or not swap.
“Everything is almost clear for us. We have different options depending on how we need to play. I don’t want to change much now. We’ve been working for three and a half years with various individuals, as we’ve tried to create and strengthen a team which will do well in South Africa.
"Everyone has had a chance. We want the players to show enthusiasm, motivation and commitment for the shirt, as they’ll need to give everything in the matches at the World Cup. We’re going to come up against teams who are just as good as us.”
Dunga decided to laud the impact made by his fringe players, most notably Grafite, Michel Bastos and Ramires following the win at the Emirates Stadium, hinting that a place on the plane to South Africa lies squarely in their own hands.
“Michel Bastos has been playing well for us,” he said. “When you watch a game, you tend to concentrate on the forwards, but by watching his performance, you can see that he knows the game. After two or three matches with us, his confidence is rising. It’s been a while since he played for us and that makes things a little more difficult. You need to realise how Robinho plays, but that understanding comes through training and match practice.
“On the right side of midfield, I chose Ramires as I wanted to switch things around, but we also have Dani Alves and Elano who can play in that position. Grafite also made very good use of his opportunity. I wanted to see him play with maturity, personality and work hard, and he did that. We’ll continue to observe the way they play.”
However, the night belonged to Robinho on his return to England. The Brazil forward endured a disappointing first half of the season with Manchester City before being loaned to Santos, but he set up the first goal when he raced through and crossed for Keith Andrews to turn into his own goal, and then added the second himself after half-time.
"He showed us all what he can do, and you can see he is happy again," said Dunga. "He needs the ball at his foot and to play well to be happy. Everyone has spells of good and bad form. As players, they have to work through it and we as coaches have to support them. With his effort on the pitch aginst Ireland, he showed all of us what he can do. Robinho is always someone who has great love and emotion for the national team and that’s important for me.”
One player who seems almost guaranteed a place in Dunga’s squad is Gilberto Silva, although he revealed that he is refusing to take anything for granted just yet. As a member of the victorious Seleção squad in 2002, he knows what it means to lift the famous Trophy, but is also aware that an unlucky injury or change in approach from his coach could leave him sat at home.
“I’m very excited about the prospect of playing in South Africa, but I’m also very anxious,” he told FIFA.com. “As the days go by you start to worry about being in the squad, or whether you might get injured and miss out because of that. But all you can do is continue to work as hard as normal for your club and be ready for the call if you’re selected. You need to keep playing at the same level to prepare well for the World Cup.
“It would be great to be involved with such a talented squad. But it will be very hard in South Africa and we will have to give our best. The first thing is to qualify from the first round, and then we will fight for every game until the end.”
The experienced midfielder, playing back at the stadium he left for Panathinaikos in 2008, believes yesterday's game was just the examination Brazil needed as they prepare for the challenges ahead at the FIFA World Cup.
"It was very hard and Ireland gave us a lot of problems," he continued. “They marked us very tightly and high up the pitch. However, in the second half we had more space and could pass the ball with more fluency, which was how we scored the second goal."