Twelve months ago Brazil were, quite literally, on top of the world. Fresh from an invigorating Copa America 2007 triumph, they looked down from the summit of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking and ahead to a radiant chapter in their sacred existence. Much, however, can change in a year.
The confidence that swept the Brazilian supporters going into qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ last October has been replaced by the doubt educed from a trembling start. The awe the side struck into opponents supplanted by a state of vulnerability. The euphoria evoked from their aforementioned 3-0 victory over Argentina shattered by the torment of an identical loss to the Albicelste in their Men's Olympic Football Tournament semi-final little over two weeks ago.
Dunga, nevertheless, has no time to dwell on this Olympic disappointment. With crucial FIFA World Cup preliminaries looming against Chile and Bolivia, he must strive to rediscover the winning formula that helped decorate his first year in office. And fast.
One-third into the campaign, Brazil have won only twice in six outings, plummeting to fifth in the CONMEBOL standings and to sixth on the world ranking. Moreover, they have performed insipidly and been outscored by over half their rivals in the ten-team section. For a team that prides itself on winning and entertaining, these figures are unacceptable.
Dunga, therefore, finds himself carrying the burden of pressure on his broad shoulders, although he remains unfazed. "It's normal. ," he said.
Seizing three points from a trip to Santiago will be no easy task. With Marcelo Bielsa at the reins and a crop of exciting youngsters, Chile have evolved into one of South American's most complete outfits, successive away victories elevating them to fourth in the table.
"Playing there has always been difficult," admitted Dunga. "It is nothing new, although every match is different. Bielsa is a very good coach. He has given the team the necessary personality to grow."
The USA 1994-winning captain nonetheless has reason for optimism. The Seleção have won their last five confrontations with Sunday's opponents, scoring 19 times and conceding just once in the process. And despite the absence of Kaka through injury, Dunga has another two superstars at his disposal.
Robinho lived up to the hype of his multimillion-pound transfer to Manchester City yesterday by arriving for a Brazil practice session on a helicopter. "I didn't want to arrive on a helicopter but it was the only way I could train," explained the 24-year-old.
Ronaldinho is also revelling in a new sense of relief. His inimitable genius flickered during the Olympics, and he made an impressive AC Milan debut, albeit in defeat, at the weekend. "He's phenomenal, so important for Brazil," opined Diego.
The two-time FIFA World Player of the Year is eager to exact this importance against Chile and Bolivia. "I'm very happy to be in the squad," Ronaldinho said. "The atmosphere between the players is wonderful. Now I'm ready to give my all to help the Seleção. I hope to do my best. It's a very crucial period but I'm confident we can achieve these two victories.
The suspicion is that Dunga will abandon his cautious approach and field Robinho, Ronaldinho and Luis Fabiano in a three-pronged attack. "It could definitely work," welcomed Robinho. "To play with Ronaldinho and Luis Fabiano would be excellent. They're both great players."
Having put turbulent moments in their respective careers behind them, Robinho and Ronaldinho are now out to help Brazil erase the memory of a miserable year.
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