Dunga pilots return to pole
© Getty Images

An overwhelming majority of Brazil's all-time greatest sportsmen were footballers. One notable exception within the country's hallowed, crowded pantheon is Ayrton Senna, a motor racing driver extraordinaire whose flair and class echoed that of Garrincha, Pele, Rivelino, Zico et al.

Senna tragically passed away in May 1994, his loss reverberating across the country one month before the USA staged the 15th FIFA World Cup™. A Seleção consequently vowed to win the competition in his honour, and when captain Dunga duly raised aloft the revered trophy, his team-mates uplifted a banner which read: 'Senna, we accelerated together. The tetra is ours.'

Brazil had assumed pole position, something for which Senna was renowned, on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking 12 days before his death, and consolidated it inside the Rose Bowl, Pasadena. It put them en route to hegemony on the global ladder. Indeed, in the 140 months that predated February 2007, Brazil spent just 14 beneath the summit - all during France's reign from May 2001.

Brazilians came to view the most exalted seat at the table as their own personal property, their throne. Having watched fierce enemies Argentina enjoy a nine-month stay at the Ranking's apex, they then looked on with disdain as Spain forcibly snatched control in July 2008, courtesy of their UEFA EURO 2008 triumph, and swiftly proceeded to put distance between themselves and their rivals.

Heading into the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009, La Roja held a sizeable 319-point advantage over runners-up the Netherlands and a cushion of 473 over Brazil, in fifth. Capturing the title would have strengthened Spain's grip on first place, and they appeared on course to do this after a group stage in which they defeated New Zealand 5-0, Iraq 1-0 and South Africa 2-0 to equal Brazil's world record of 35 games without defeat, set an unprecedented 15-match winning streak, and ease through to the semi-finals. There, however, Vicente Del Bosque's charges lost 2-0 to USA.

Brazil swaggered through Group B, a 4-3 reverse of Egypt preceding 3-0 wins over the Americans and Italy. The five-time world champions then put paid to South Africa's chances in the semi-finals, before staging a heroic fightback to edge USA 3-2 in a breathtaking decider.

I'm proud of my side's progress. Winning the Confederations Cup was a great achievement but it's imperative we carry on working calmly.
Brazil coach Dunga

Brazil had begun June by defeating Uruguay away and Paraguay at home, 4-0 and 2-1 respectively, to race to the top of South American qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Their exploits at the Festival of Champions meant they finished the month boasting a 100 per cent record from seven matches, and when July's FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking was published on Wednesday, three days after Lucio lifted his country's third FIFA Confederations Cup trophy, its most successful team ended their longest period away from the top.

Dunga's side will next face Estonia in Tallinn on 12 August, on a sequence of eight straight victories and 16 games without defeat, during which time they have scored 39 times and conceded just nine. This form has been indebted to goalkeeper Julio Cesar, right-wingback Maicon, attacking midfielder Kaka, and forwards Robinho and Luis Fabiano, and these players are already focusing on September's South Africa 2010 preliminaries away to Argentina and at home to Chile.

"I'm proud of my side's progress," said Dunga. "They are high quality players, very committed professionals and they are true men. Every day they play, they give of their best and I am very happy for them. Winning the Confederations Cup was a great achievement but it's imperative we carry on working calmly and learn from our past mistakes."

Kaka, the adidas Golden Ball recipient at South Africa 2009, added: "We must avoid any euphoria because that sort of thing hindered our preparations at the last World Cup. But this is a new group of players with a different attitude. The players are hungry for success and willing to give everything to achieve it. Brazil always want to be the best in the world."

That is a status which, at least for now, belongs to A Seleção. Fifteen years after Dunga the player helped kick-start Brazil's enduring rule atop the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, Dunga the coach has restored them to their habitual placement. Senna, a football enthusiast and the king of pole position in his own discipline, would be proud of the man who led his tribute in California.