Such is the weight of expectation on Brazil that any FIFA World Cup™ campaign that ends in anything other than triumph and the world title is regarded as a total failure. As a former Seleção player and coach, Dunga knows all about that, having come in for considerable criticism when his largely successful four-year stint in charge of the side ended with defeat to the Netherlands in the quarter-finals at South Africa 2010.
Now on the outside looking in, in his capacity as a TV commentator at Brazil 2014, Dunga has some interesting views to offer on the hosts’ shock semi-final defeat to Germany, which he expressed in a lengthy interview with FIFA.com. Also up for discussion was the quality of the football that has been played at the tournament so far, most notably by Sunday’s two finalists, Germany and Argentina.
FIFA.com: As the previous coach who is now on the sidelines supporting the team, what’s your view of Brazil’s first-half performance against Germany?
Dunga: I think Germany did what Brazil used to do a long time ago: set up a triangle on one side of the pitch and then switch the play with 40 and 50-metre passes. The advantage they had was that they had the ideal player on the other side in [Thomas] Muller, who quick enough and skilful enough to keep the play moving. Some might say that they didn’t really do anything out of the ordinary or exceptional – except that they did, because they did what every team dreams of doing. Germany played as a unit. They got forward, played with depth and at pace and got back to defend at the right times. And if you look at the goals, you’ll see that the Brazilians always had a numerical advantage. The thing was, the players were always four or five metres away. Leaving that kind of space can be fatal these days, when you really have to be compact.
Some people have said that Germany haven’t really played that well, until the Brazil game at least. What is it that finally allowed them to express themselves and play the kind of football we’ve all been expecting?
Germany have worked things out as the tournament has progressed and they got their team right after beating Algeria, a game in which they had a lot of problems. He (coach Joachim Low) had [Philipp] Lahm in midfield and then switched him to full-back, where he’s been outstanding. He put [Sami] Khedira in the middle with [Bastian] Schweinsteiger, played a faster man in defence, namely [Mats] Hummels, and brought [Miroslav] Klose into the attack. He’s also got Schweinsteiger running things in midfield, both when it comes to defending and pressing and to dictating the pace. He knows when to sit tight and take up position between the two central defenders and when to get forward and press. You have to understand that a national team is not a collection of the best players but the players who fit in with the kind of football you’re trying to play. There isn’t that much difference between sides any more. The problem is that here in Brazil we think that exceptionally talented players don’t have any kind of tactical function to perform. It’s that kind of mentality that we need to change.
They did what every team dreams of doing. Germany played as a unit.
Do you think that the Confederations Cup only increased the pressure on the players or did it make people believe the team was ready to win the World Cup?
Not really. Brazil are always among the favourites, whatever the competition, and players have to be able to deal with that pressure. We’ve got players who are with the best clubs in the world, like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Chelsea, and they’re used to winning. I think winning the Confederations Cup gave them more self-confidence. It was a good thing it happened because it calmed a lot of the fears people had about the World Cup. In the end, the fans warmed to A Seleção and supported them in every game, even in the match against Germany. I’ve had some very different experiences, including a qualifier against Argentina in Minas, where we were booed for the whole 90 minutes. This time there was none of that.
The 2010 defeat brought about change in the national team, and the same is probably going to happen again now. What lessons do you think can be learned from what’s just happened?
Well, that’s a question for the people on the inside. The thing is, any national team heading into a World Cup has to have a programme in place and decisions have to be respected. I took a lot of criticism for organising so many training camps, but what people don’t understand is that you don’t have much time to work with, so you have to make the most of it. A World Cup is hard work for a national team and a party for everyone else on the outside. That means you have to make a very clear distinction between the two because it’s a huge challenge. There’ll be arguments, but just because you lose doesn’t mean to say that everything’s been a mess. There are a lot of good things that need to be built on.
The Netherlands, who beat Brazil in 2010, have kept their core of experienced players together and still managed to achieve continuity, as have Germany. Do you think the team needs to maintain ties with the old generation, for the experience they have?
Like I said, just because you lose doesn’t mean to say that everything has been a disaster. And just because a player is old doesn’t mean to say he has nothing left to offer. Look at Klose. He’s 36 and he’s the highest goalscorer in the history of the World Cup. What you need to do, then, is take a step back and strike a balance between new faces and experienced players who can take responsibility when things get tough, be leaders on the pitch and get the side together as one to prevent the kind of disaster that just happened to A Seleção.
A World Cup is hard work for a national team and a party for everyone else on the outside.
You’re impressed by Germany, but how do you see Argentina ahead of the Final? Do they have the tactical maturity to win the title?
I think it’s a similar situation. Argentina have been working things out as the World Cup has progressed and they’ve made some changes that have worked well for them. For example, [Javier] Mascherano was very much on his own in the midfield before, but now that they’ve got someone else in there alongside him, they look a lot stronger. [Martin] Demichelis has added a bit of character and the pieces are fitting in. [Ezequiel] Lavezzi has also changed his position as a result, and is tracking back a little bit more. Up front they’ve got [Lionel] Messi, [Gonzalo] Higuain and Lavezzi, so they don’t need much more there. You need space to be able to attack at pace and keep things moving.
Do you think this World Cup has seen the emergence of a new trend in football, with teams looking to get forward more and try to score more?
Look, just because you’ve got three or four players up front, it doesn’t mean to say you’re playing a more attacking game. You can have one or no players at all and yet still get forward with four or five men. Those concepts have all been undermined at this World Cup. The only team that’s played with three up front and pressed the whole time were Chile, but that’s because of the type of players they’re got. They knew that defensively that don’t have players who can go in hard, so they responded by attacking. In general I think the trend is to have players who are more offensive and faster and who look to pounce on the mistakes opponents make. We’ve seen a lot of goals come about here because forwards are getting more and more effective and mobile. Today’s system, with everyone marking together and dropping back in midfield to close down the space and then attacking at pace when they win the ball back, is one that brings results. Generally speaking the game’s become more dynamic now.