In July 2014, Belo Horizonte, Portuguese for Beautiful Horizon, witnessed one of the darkest days in Brazilian football history. Following on from the Seleção’s incredibly humbling defeat to soon-to-be world champions Germany, the nation seemed lost.
Shirts were burnt, buses were set alight and tears were shed that night, but it could prove to be one of the most important moments in the Brazilian national team’s illustrious 101 year existence.
The post-World Cup clear out in Brazil saw a monumental restructuring of the management and subsequently the squad. The shamed Luiz Felipe Scolari resigned three days after his Brazil side lost 3-0 at the hands of the Netherlands in the third place play-off, being replaced by Dunga one week later.
After being dismissed by the Brazilian Football Confederation on the back of a quarter final exit in the South African World Cup of 2010, Dunga was making his return to the national team.
Immediately his appointment was met with scrutiny from those recalling his previous stint as manager, as well as his failure at Internacional between 2012 and 2013. However, this is an opportunity of redemption for Dunga, a chance to rebuild the side he made 91 appearances for.
Eleven months on from regaining the reigns of the Seleção, Dunga has taken charge of ten Brazil matches, winning all of them.
Of course, as these matches have been friendlies, an air of uncertainty remains around his management, but you can’t argue with the results so far, including victories over Euro 2016 hosts France, World Cup finalists Argentina and five of the twelve teams in Copa America 2015.
Dunga knows the Copa America inside-out having won it with Brazil in 2007 and will be hoping to reclaim the trophy in the following month.
The differences between the 23-man squad for this tournament and the Brazil squad for the World Cup are clear and that’s one of the vital aspects in the reshaping of this once all-conquering national team.
Firstly, Thiago Silva has been discharged from his role as captain, with the armband being handed to the icon of Brazil, Neymar. This change in captaincy encapsulates the new attitude of the national team, with a greater focus on youth as opposed to old guard.
The average age of the national team in the two tournaments has dropped from 27.8 years to 26.4 years, showing a clear enhancement in the reliance on youth, that’s without factoring in that those who have kept their place in the side are now another year older.
All three of the Brazilian goalkeepers at the 2014 World Cup were in their 30s, now only Jefferson remains, with Neto and Marcelo Grohe being selected in place of Julio Cesar and Victor.
Fluminense’s Fred has been dropped, while Shaktar’s Fred – nine years his junior – has been brought in to the side. As well as this, youngsters including Roberto Firmino, Casemiro, Coutinho and Fabinho have all been included in the Copa America squad, replacing the likes of Ramires, Paulinho, Hernanes and Maicon.
It doesn’t stop there though, there are more than just age changes in this side, some of the glaring omissions of the 2014 World Cup squad have also entered the fray.
The lack of Marquinhos, Filipe Luis and Miranda in Scolari’s side was met with widespread disbelief, but these players have now been giving their opportunity under Dunga, in place of the slightly questionable World Cup selections of Dante, Maxwell and Henrique.
The playstyle of Dunga was questioned in 2010, with his counter-attacking style not being well received back home in Brazil, but he seems to be looking to bring back some of the flair in Brazil’s play.
The top scorer of Copa America 2007, Robinho, has returned to the fold and, as previously mentioned, Fred has been dropped in favour of the more technically adept Diego Tardelli. Perhaps the most influential exclusion is one that may not have happened were it not for football’s most unfortunate, unwanted burden that is injury.
Oscar has been subject to numerous reports linking him with a move away from Chelsea so far this summer, but he won’t have Copa America to showcase his talent to potential suitors. Industrious and efficient, Oscar does not scream Brazilian.
Part of Jose Mourinho’s hard-working midfield, the former São Paulo man can hold little comparison to former Brazilian midfield masters in terms of style. You won’t see him attempting the audacious tricks and flicks of Ronaldinho, or retaining the ball as though it were on a piece of thread akin to Orlando City fan favourite Kaka. Oscar’s style could be described as ‘German’.
As diligent as any footballer you will find, Oscar, at club level, regularly takes it upon himself to regain possession of the ball before shirking the responsibility of creativity to those around him.
While Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas look for ways to break down defences, Oscar will often act as an option by darting into the box for a shot on goal or hovering on the edge to occupy the opposition back line.
This doesn’t suit Brazil. They’ve got ball winners in the form of some top centre-backs and promising central midfielders, what they need in this tournament is aid for Neymar. As sensational as he is, the Barcelona forward can’t bring creativity and flair to the Brazilian party by himself.
Had Oscar not picked up an injury in the lead-up to the tournament, there’s a very good possibility that one of Roberto Firmino or Philippe Coutinho wouldn’t missed out.
Firmino, recently linked with a move away from his current club side Hoffenheim, does offer some of the defensive work-rate of Oscar, but is primarily a footballer that plays on the front foot, as one of the top offensive midfielders in the Bundesliga.
In the last two seasons, the midfielder hailing from Maceió has created the most chances of any player in Germany’s top flight, including record-breaker Kevin De Bruyne. In Brazil’s final warm-up match before Copa America 2015, Firmino scored, having been set up Filipe Luis.
Coutinho’s technical ability is even more affluent. Having made the 2014/15 PFA Team of the Season, Liverpool’s magician has been a well received inclusion of Brazil’s Copa America squad, especially since his fantastic solo goal against Mexico in their penultimate warm-up match.
The goal highlighted the close control, sensational footwork and general intuitive play Coutinho brings to the side, furthering the evidence of his importance to it, despite how young his international career is.
The changes in the structure of the Brazilian national team since the disastrous World Cup of 2014 point towards a side that is beginning its reformation to return to former glories.
Even though we may never see a Brazilian side as imperious as the one that won 2002 World Cup, featuring stars of the calibre of Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos and so many more, Brazil will be back as a footballing powerhouse again one day. The first step in this revival is winning Copa America 2015.