Brazil’s first Copa America first-round exit since 1987 has cost Brazil coach Dunga his job, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) confirmed on Tuesday.
A staunch pragmatist whose ruthless counterattacking approach brought with it Copa America and Confederations Cup glory for the Selecao between 2006-10, Dunga had returned after the 7-1 World Cup semifinal defeat to Germany in 2014. His appointment was almost an instinctive defense mechanism by the CBF to ensure that sort of humiliation would never happen again.
He instantly led Brazil to 10 consecutive Brasil Global Tour friendly victories, conceding just two goals in the process, but a quarterfinal exit to Paraguay at last year’s Copa America and a tricky start to World Cup qualifying left him feeling the pressure this month.
Dunga took his side into the Copa America Centenario with one eye firmly on August’s Rio Olympics, with no less than six of 23-man squad of ‘Olympic age’ and talk of blooding a new generation that would join Neymar in the quest for Brazil’s first gold medal.
He lost six players in just two weeks prior to the big Copa America kickoff, and was already without Neymar who was forbidden to compete in back-to-back international tournaments by his club, Barcelona.
Brazil had yet to find a replacement for its dependence on the captain, who had scored a quarter of the goals in the two years under Dunga despite missing a quarter of the matches because of suspensions.
They were also without an established, first-team center forward as Dunga trialed a number of alternatives but never settled on a regular false nine to lead his attack.
Moreover, the grumbles over his conservative approach continued in the background; complaints that dated back to his July 2014 appointment when local commentators insisted the ‘7-1’ was proof of the need for a sea change.
Brazilian soccer has favosred substance over style for more than three decades, and few stood as greater symbols of futebol do resultado than Dunga.
A staunch pragmatist, Dunga hadn’t ushered in any real change to the team’s style and they sat outside the automatic qualification places for World Cup 2018 after managing just two wins from six matches.
There was a feeling that, two years on, little had changed since the World Cup.
And then came a shock. In the Chverolet Brasil Global Tour friendly against Panama in Colorado last month, Dunga removed Luiz Gustavo and sent out a team for the second half that didn’t include a specialist defensive midfielder.
During his first four years in charge, Dunga had used two volantes, in Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo. The experiment against Panama lasted about 30 minutes, before Rodrigo Caio was brought on and the natural order was restored. It was as remarkable as it was unexpected.
After a disappointing scoreless draw with Ecuador to open their Copa America campaign, Dunga did it again against Haiti. 4-0 up on the hour, Casemiro was withdrawn for playmaker Lucas Lima.
This time it lasted just ten minutes before a consolation goal for Haiti triggered a rethink and the introduction of Walace.
After two years, Dunga and Brazil were explicitly responding to the ‘7-1’ as the coach’s rhetoric switched to one preaching the importance of possession and creativity in midfield.
So with Casemiro suspended for Brazil’s final group game against Haiti, Dunga took the plunge and began a match his side didn’t even need to win without anyone in midfield to protect the back four.
Brazil dominated the first period and suddenly the future looked bright. Dunga had taken a decision every bit as admirable and brave as it was utterly incongruous.
And on he stuck by it, too, even when Peru began to threaten on the counterattack. Walace and Caio were on the bench, but Dunga left them there, instead simply asking box-to-box midfielder Elias to curb his enthusiasm a little.
But the wheels came off after the break as Brazil failed to penetrate the Peru defense and became increasingly muddled.
Andy Polo sneaked in behind Filipe Luis on the right wing and sent in a cross for the controversial Raul Ruidiaz goal that sent Brazil packing.
And just like that, just as Brazil looked on the cusp of something interesting, exciting and forward-thinking, it was all over.
It all proved too much, too late for Dunga.