COMMENT By Rupert Fryer & Nara Franco
With attentions firmly focused on Brazil's upcoming Superclasico de las Americas against Argentina, last week one date went largely overlooked by many in the Brazilian media.
Coach Dunga is a stern, focused man; perhaps even obsessive in many areas of his professional life – certainly when it comes to holding the collective over individuals.
So that his 52nd birthday barely earned any column inches would have been of little concern to him ahead of a crunch World Cup qualifying clash.
Dunga has long endured a slightly prickly relationship with the press, one that displayed its sharpest spikes one sunny afternoon in 1994 when he lifted the World Cup in USA.
Rather than beaming from ear-to-ear, fist-pumping and bellowing ‘campeoes’ as loud as his tired lungs could manage, Dunga instead took the chance to vocalise his overwhelming feeling of vindication and downright anger.
Four years previously, it was he who who was singled out amid criticisms that the Brazil of World Cup 1990 were uninspiring, unimaginative traitors of jogo bonito.
Then coach Sebastiao Barroso Lazaroni’s defensive-minded 3-5-2 saw Brazil past Sweden 2-1 in their opener when Careca, who has joined the Brazil squad this month as the latest incumbent of Dunga’s guest-coach policy, bagged both goals for the Selecao.
“Our victory showed that we are on track, that the ‘spectacular football show’ does not exist anymore,” barked Dunga after the victory.
However Brazil quickly careered off track as Argentina kocked them out in the second round with the ultimate smash-n-grab - Diego Maradona slaloming through the midfield and rolling in Claudio Caniggia to skip around current goalkeeping-coach Taffarel for the only goal of the game.
The Selecao were sent packing, with the press labelling their performance the worst of any Brazil side since 1966.
The media dubbed those years the ‘Dunga era’, but that was a slur to which he has always emphatically responded that he'd much rather have a World Cup winners' medal in his pocket than forever be remembered as one of Brazil’s “beautiful losers”.
And so as he travels to Buenos Aires this week with Careca and Taffarel back at his side, Thursday's showdown with Argentina provides a certain symmetry for the coach now in his second stint as Brazil boss.
Once again facing criticism for his philosophy of play, victory against the old rival will put him back in the fast lane as he once again returns to banish a 'Dunga era' from his compatriots' collective consciousness.
This time around World Cup 2010 is Dunga’s 1990.
After a fine four years in charge which saw him claim Copa America and Confederations Cup titles while cruising through qualification, comfortably beating an Argentina side coached by Maradona 3-1 in Rosario, Dunga's first spell as coach came to a vitriolic end when the wheels came off in South Africa.
After going a goal up against Netherlands in the World Cup quarter-final, a mistake from goalkeeper Julio Cesar let the Dutch back into the game before Brazil went behind from a corner.
It was the first time Dunga's side had trailed in the tournament and they would bow out amid intense criticism that the coach's pragmatic approach left no room for the creativity necessary to get Brazil back into the game.
Moreover, midfielder Felipe Melo was sent off for a stamp on Arjen Robben that left local commentators suggesting Dunga’s overly-aggressive nature had been transmitted onto the field.
"The people are pleased, for they saw committed players representing the country in the best possible way,” Said Dunga, but his time was up.
He returned following last year’s World Cup and the 7-1 defeat to Germany, as the Brazilian football federation (CBF) ignorred calls for a complete overhaul of the local game.
Their thinking was that Brazil needed to restore the structure, discipline and defensive solidity that was sorely lacking during their shocking defeat to Germany.
Dunga has since marched to 12 consecutive Chevrolet Brasil Global Tour friendly victories but continues to face criticism for his team’s performances in competitive matches. A surprise quarter-final defeat to Paraguay in this year’s Copa America was followed by a 2-0 defeat to Chile in the first round of qualifying.
The Selecao bounced back with victory over Venezuela, however, and this week, with Neymar returning from suspension and Lionel Messi missing through injury, Dunga is hoping a victory at the Monumental will kick-start another second chance, and provide a second opportunity for World Cup redemption.
He’s done it before. And he’s obsessed with doing it again. Unconcerned by the aesthetics of the game, Dunga is a man consumed by his appetite for success.
So just a few weeks after Pele’s birthday was celebrated around the world, any lack of candles for his own anniversary will have mattered little. So, too, will any that may be lit over his next couple of birthdays.
Dunga, the redemption man, is back at it once again. And the only date that matters to him will arrive in 2018.