When he was booed and insulted by furious fans after an uninspiring goalless draw with Argentina in Belo Horizonte back in June 2008, Dunga could have been forgiven for considering his position as Brazil coach. Fast forward 15 months and the combative former midfielder is master of all he surveys.
After masterminding A Seleção's triumph at the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009 in June, he has now taken them to next year's FIFA World Cup™ finals. The Brazilians could not have booked their ticket to South Africa in sweeter style either, overpowering arch-rivals Argentina in their own backyard to leave their qualification hopes hanging by a thread.
"It's tremendously satisfying to qualify like this, but for me it's even more satisfying to finish off a good job well done," said a proud Dunga in the wake of his side's 3-1 win in Rosario. "Ever since we took over we've been trying to get across what it means to play for the national side, to make our players, who are all stars with their club sides, become workers out on the pitch."
"We're trying to get the players to enjoy themselves when they play and to be happy when they represent their country," he continued. "And that's what they've done. They've kept their minds on the job and given everything. That's why we're happy with the result. Everything has worked out the way we wanted and we've achieved our main goal."
Stats tell the story
The responsibility that comes with coaching the only team that has never failed to reach the FIFA World Cup finals is one that few are ready to assume. For a born competitor such as Dunga, however, it is the kind of challenge he desires and craves.
As Brazil's recent record shows, the coach has clearly been able to instil his players with the drive and commitment that he encapsulated in his playing days. Since losing 2-0 to Paraguay on 15 June 2008, the men in yellow and green have gone 18 games unbeaten, winning the last ten on the trot. In the qualifying competition they have so far collected 30 points to sit top of the section and have beaten the likes of Chile, Uruguay and now Argentina. In doing so they have scored 28 goals and conceded only seven, the best record in the group.
Before the game I told my players that if we finished the game with 11 men on the pitch, we would win.
None of those victories have provided as much satisfaction as Saturday evening's demolition job in Rosario, as Seleção skipper Lucio explained. "It's a fantastic feeling. It doesn't get better than this, to qualify for the finals, here in Argentina. It feels special because of the rivalry we have, and to achieve our objective like this makes it even more satisfying."
"We knew it was going to be a difficult game but we withstood the pressure and took the three points," added the FIFA Confederations Cup-winning captain, who, worryingly for their future opponents, believes his side still have room for improvement. "The most important thing is that we've kept on winning, we're through to the finals and we can take the time now to work on a few things before the World Cup."
The keys to victory
In Dunga's eyes there was one key factor in his team's resounding win over Diego Maradona's men. "Before the game I told my players that if we finished the game with 11 men on the pitch, we would win. I didn't want anyone fighting or picking up cards. If we could do that, then we would win. And that's what we did."
As well as keeping a cool head, the five-time world champions had the ability to strike at exactly the right time, scoring twice in six minutes midway through the first half and then restoring their two-goal lead just moments after the hosts had cut the deficit.
"My second goal was very important because they had just scored and were beginning to get back into the game with the fans right behind them," explained Luis Fabuloso Fabiano in the dressing room afterwards. "But then I came along and threw a bucket of cold water over them."
The Sevilla striker deserves a special mention for his recent performances in the No9 shirt, which no one has been able to fill since the departure of Ronaldo. No one except Luis Fabiano, that is. After impressing at the FIFA Confederations Cup, he is now the leading scorer in the South America Zone with eight goals.
With qualification now in the bag and the catcalls and criticism of that night in Belo Horizonte now a distant memory, Fabiano and Co can begin plotting their assault on a sixth world title for Brazil. And as he plots their way forward, coach Dunga can be content in the knowledge that he has concocted a winning formula: "The key to all these victories is the chemistry between the coaching staff and the players."