By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil’s national soccer coach Dunga, having already named the 23 man squad going to the World Cup, has one fresh worry ahead of their opening fixture on June 15th. Influential playmaker Kaká pulled up in training on May 28th with a calf complaint, and now faces something of a race against time to be fit in time to face North Korea.
The Real Madrid galactico has spent the last few days in the company of the national team doctors, and despite an inconsistent season by his own high standards in Spain, Dunga will be be hoping the talismanic attacking midfielder recovers quickly having left out several of his more creative players from the squad.
The view across the country is that Kaká is the one man with the key to Brazil’s World Cup fortunes and with the squad possessing few household names, it is the versatile attacker who started his career at São Paulo who remains the Seleção’s danger man.
The Brazilian has played in just 22 games since the start of the year, so his latest injury hints at the susceptibility of the team’s target man to wear and tear, but Dunga has opted not to change his squad at the last minute, confirming with FIFA on deadline day the same 23 names he announced last week, somewhat earlier than the majority of his rivals.
England coach Fabio Capello, for example, left his final decision to the last minute, announcing at 4PM on Tuesday his final 23 players, with few surprises other than the rejection of young winger Theo Walcott. England play America in their opening game, which promises to set the tone for both team’s potential in the tournament this year, and Capello’s men will be looking for a stronger display than that shown during an unconvincing 2-1 win against Japan at the weekend, relying on two own goals for victory.
While most coaches have used recent friendlies to decide their final squad, the final Brazilian selection flew to South Africa at the end of last week and the coach appears to already know his strongest team, using the last day’s training before departure to focus on different tactics and formations for the three group games against North Korea, Ivory Coast and Portugal.
Ivory Coast squandered a two goal lead against Paraguay on Sunday to draw their latest warm up game 2-2. Front man and Chelsea star Didier Drogba was in fine form, heading in the opener and causing problems all afternoon for the South Americans.
Brazil’s other group rivals Portugal faced Cameroon in a friendly on Tuesday as coach Carlos Queiroz still tries to work out his strongest side, and much fancied Spain looked like they were stuttering through the gears, narrowly overcoming Saudi Arabia 3-2 on Saturday.
Brazil start their own pre-World Cup friendlies today against Zimbabwe, before playing Tanzania on June 7th. Dunga will now look to try out some other options in Kaká’s position or consider changing the formation, a risky strategy at such a late stage in preparations. One likely replacement is Julio Baptista, who has never shone in the famous yellow jersey in the same way as his team mate.
Brazil kick off their World Cup campaign on Tuesday June 15th, and Dunga’s first setback has already occurred. With just two warm up games left to experiment with his squad, the country is waiting to see how their coach responds.