In recent years, squad announcements for the Brazilian national team have had a familiar ring to them, with virtually all those called up plying their trade in European leagues. At the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, for example, reserve goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni and midfielder Ricardinho were the only Brazil-based players in Carlos Alberto Parreira's original 23. This duo then became a trio after the injured Edmilson was replaced by fellow midfield man Mineiro.
The latest squad unveiled by Seleção coach Dunga on 21 May has revealed an intriguing change of tack, however, with the former Brazil captain calling up no fewer than five domestic-based players. These are left-wingback Kleber and forward Nilmar from Internacional, and three new boys: Andre Santos of Corinthians, Gremio goalkeeper Victor and Cruzeiro's Ramires.
I don't hesitate to give opportunities to players who don't have prior Seleção experience. They now need to work hard, prove their worth and earn a place within the squad.
Nor have the Brazilian contingent been called up for a mere friendly or exhibition encounter, with Dunga's side facing potentially the biggest matches since he took charge in 2006. First up are the vital South Africa 2010 qualifiers against Uruguay and Paraguay, on 6 and 10 June respectively, followed by the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009, which gets underway on 14 June. "I don't hesitate to give opportunities to players who don't have prior Seleção experience," said the coach. "They now need to work hard, prove their worth and earn a place within the squad."
Followers of the domestic game in Brazil will be aware that these call-ups are just reward for the consistently outstanding performances of the players involved. And in the case of 22-year-old Ramires, a member of Brazil's bronze-medal winning squad at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008, he had been so desperate for a return to international duty that he dared not follow Dunga's squad announcements on television or radio, preferring instead to receive the news second-hand.
Finally last week, on arriving at club training, a Cruzeiro official was able to give him the long-awaited news. "In the end I was more surprised than anything because, even though I'd been hoping for it, reaching the senior national team is especially moving. It's the realisation of a dream I've had for years," Ramires told FIFA.com.
"Now I'm nervous in a different way: I'll be rubbing shoulders with great players who are so used to Seleção duty. I want to learn and enjoy this opportunity, though I know my own potential and I'm ready to battle for a starting place," continued the player, who is set to join Portuguese giants Benfica following his club's Copa Libertadores 2009 campaign.
"I think it's clear that, as far as Dunga is concerned, what matters is how you're playing not where," added Ramires, who was included in the Brasileirao's team of 2008. "I'll have to adapt to a new country, a new reality, but I'm certain that once I show my quality then the opportunities will arrive."
Doors open to newcomers
Another man voted the best in his position in last year's Rede Globo-CBF awards was Victor, for whom national team selection is the culmination of his impressive progress in recent years. Having started his career at humble sides Paulista and Ituano, the custodian has burst on to the scene since arriving at Gremio in 2008. "When you play for a big team you have to stay focused during every match to get good results," said the 26-year-old, whose main virtue is his consistency between the sticks. "I had been thinking about the national team, but I couldn't imagine that recognition would come so soon."
After playing a key part in helping fallen giants Corinthians seal promotion from Brazil's Serie B in 2008, 26-year-old wingback Andre Santos has forced his way into reckoning after an impressive start to 2009. "I'll be focused on competing for a starting place," said the player, who rooms with Ronaldo when on club duty for O Timão. "It's a new situation for me, but when Ronaldo rang to congratulate me he said he'd call the Seleção veterans and ask them to look after his boy!"
All in all, the injection of new faces can only be good news for followers of Brazilian football. Not only does it give an added motivation to domestic-based players, perhaps reducing the haste with which talented youngsters seek a move abroad, it also keeps established stars on their toes at a crucial period for the five-time world champions.