By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – With just over two weeks to go until the first ball is kicked in South Africa, Cariocas are bracing themselves for the World Cup party all over again. It is strange to think of a World Cup looming without Brazil as the red hot favorites, but that honor goes to Spain this year.
The added pressure did them no favors in 2006, where the seleção were knocked out in the quarter finals by France. This time round, Coach Dunga’s squad will go about their business without the benefit of big names, and egos. However the absence of a multitude of flair players has not dampened Rio’s taste for sensationalist football.
Dunga has molded a workman-like team he can rely on to get the job done with the minimum of media hype. When Brazil take to the field for their opening game against North Korea on June 15th, his starting line up, barring any last minute injuries, is likely to be: Julio Cesar; Maicon, Lucio, Juan, Michel Bastos; Gilberto Silva, Felipe Melo; Robinho, Kaka’, Elano; Luis Fabiano.
Brazil is expected to move past the North Koreans easily, in what some consider more of a practice match. They will face far sterner tests in their other two Group games, against Ivory Coast and Portugal, on June 20th and 25th.
Dunga will hope to have six points in the bag before the potentially explosive game against the Portuguese. Instead of focusing on the glory it would give his team to knock the Europeans out of the tournament at the Group stage, the coach has always adopted a far more pragmatic philosophy to many of his predecessors; focus on the opposition in front of you.
Dunga’s biggest success as national team coach has been to keep his players grounded and not let any media, or indeed fan, hype affect their performances. With experts and pundits predicting Brazil to win Group G, and second place to be a straight shoot out between Ivory Coast and Portugal, Dunga will look to ensure his players do not go into the games thinking they have already booked their place in the knock out stages.
Brazil’s game against Ivory Coast stands out as a game brimming with physicality. Both sides are packed with bulldozers standing over six feet tall. The second tussle in three months between Lucio and Didier Drogba, which the Brazil captain won with ease in the Champions League this season, will intrigue the viewing millions.
Lucio has been the best central defender in Europe this season, putting in another masterful performance last Saturday to help quash Bayern Munich’s attacking threat as Inter Milan lifted their first European Cup since 1965.
Then, Brazil take on Portugal. There is no love lost between the two nations, and the game will be stoked with emotion. This is the match most Brazilians will be looking forward to; with expectations of tempers flaring, let the games begin.