Already part of a formidable Inter Milan rearguard that has frustrated attackers across Europe this campaign, goalkeeper Julio Cesar, centre-back Lucio and right-back Maicon will be determined to bring that rugged solidity to Brazil’s bid for a sixth FIFA World Cup™ crown in South Africa.
Indeed, the Nerazzurri trio are key figures in Dunga's team, with the USA 1994-winning captain instilling an enviable work ethic and defensive strength into a squad packed with big names. And with captain Lucio and Co keeping things tight at the back, it sets the stage for stellar attacking players such as Kaka, Robinho and Luis Fabiano to run amok at the other end.
By any standard, it has been an amazing 12 months for Inter's Brazilians. At international level, the trio helped A Seleção to glory at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009 and finish top of the standings in South American Zone qualifying for South Africa 2010. At club level, under coach Jose Mourinho, all three were key elements of the side which followed up an Italian league and cup double with victory over Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League final on Saturday.
“It’s been a spectacular year, but it’s not over yet, is it?” said Maicon after the 2-0 win at the Bernabeu. “We know we’ve got the biggest prize of all still to go for, and we’re going to give it everything we’ve got to win that one too.”
This level of confidence is hardly surprising when you consider the Inter backline has successfully handled the likes of Arjen Robben, Lionel Messi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ronaldinho and Francesco Totti during this season’s domestic and European campaigns. The San Siro side boasted Serie A’s best defensive record, conceding just 34 times in 38 games, while in the Champions League they shipped just nine goals in 13 matches at a rate of 0.69 per game – only bettered by Bordeaux’s 0.6.
It’s been a spectacular year, but it’s not over yet, is it? We know we’ve got the biggest prize of all still to go for, and we’re going to give it everything we’ve got to win that one too.
In the same competition, Mourinho’s charges eventually ousted holders Barcelona after restricting them to a goal a game over their four meetings (group stage and semi-final) - quite a feat when you consider Barça had racked up an average of two goals a match against their other opponents in this season’s continental showpiece.
And though a defensive system is clearly not just about three men, with Romania’s Christian Chivu and Argentina’s Walter Samuel, Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti all making a vital contributions, the Brazilian connection cannot be ignored. Indeed, Julio Cesar, Maicon and Lucio were all first-choice players as Dunga's troops finished South American Zone qualifying boasting the region’s tightest defence: they conceded only 11 times in 18 games, shipped more than one goal on just three occasions, and kept an impressive ten clean sheets.
UnderstandingNo doubt playing a big part in these impressive statistics is the understanding Julio Cesar, Maicon and Lucio have built up at club level, while the latter used to share a dressing room with his Brazil centre-back partner Juan at Bundesliga outfit Bayer Leverkusen.
"The three of them are all at Inter now. When you’ve played together before it makes it much easier to adapt (to international football) and we make up a stable backline which doesn’t give away many goals,” said Juan, who now turns out for Roma.
“We’ve got confidence from the work we’ve done over the last three and a half years, which is what happens when you give players a run of games together,” added Juan, who is expected to start in South Africa alongside Lucio, and be shielded by defensive midfielder Gilberto Silva - a triumvirate also in place at Germany 2006. Moreover, Juan played with keeper Julio Cesar at Brazilian outfit Flamengo, while second-choice centre-back Luisao was a team-mate of Maicon from the pair’s time at Cruzeiro.
Illustrating the level of desire that has characterised Brazil since Dunga took charge in 2006, Julio Cesar joined up with the squad in Curitiba just two days after the Champions League final, despite having permission to enjoy a longer break. Maicon too, can “barely wait to meet up with my team-mates and start working hard”.
Given the talent at their disposal and this degree of commitment, can anybody stop A Seleção reaching the Final?