CHANGE CAME QUICKLY TO THE SELEÇÃO AFTER ITS 1-0 QUARTERFINAL LOSS TO FRANCE AT THE 2006 WORLD CUP. MANAGER CARLOS ALBERTO PARREIRA STEPPED DOWN JUST 10 DAYS after the tournament ended, taking with him the flawed Magic Quartet offense centered on superstars Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Adriano and Kaká. Less rapid, however, has been Brazilian fans' acceptance of Parreira's replacement, Dunga, who was a tough defensive midfielder in the 1980s and '90s and captain of Brazil's 1994 World Cup-winning side. Dunga scrapped the Quartet and built a more balanced and workmanlike squad.
Gone is the free-flowing, individual-oriented style of play most often associated with Brazil. Adriano and Ronaldinho were rarely called upon throughout qualification in '09, and Ronaldo not at all; only Kaká remains a force on the team. Dunga's squad is instead typified by rugged all-around footballers, the type of relentless bangers who wore down the U.S. in the 2009 Confederations Cup final and led Landon Donovan to gush, "They're going to keep coming. What are you going to do?"
This year's team runs largely through attacking midfielders Kaká and Robinho and center forward Luís Fabiano, but to complement them Dunga reached beyond the typical European all-star pool to find players such as Felipe Melo, a 26-year-old midfielder in his first season with the Italian club Juventus.
The result? That depends on who you are. Brazilians were disappointed with the team's up-and-down qualifying run. The case against Dunga goes like this: His 2008 Olympic team foundered in Beijing, losing badly to Argentina in the semis; the Seleção went scoreless—at home, no less—in a three-game qualifying stretch between June and October; and it lost 2-0 at Paraguay despite holding a man advantage for 43 minutes. But anyone else might point to Dunga's myriad successes, or to Kaká's absence from two of the three games during the scoreless streak. In 2009 Brazil played eight times against teams rated 16th or higher in the current FIFA world rankings—and won every game. The final combined score in that series: Brazil 23, everyone else 8. With that type of line in South Africa, Brazilians just might embrace their former captain once again.
Speedy counterattacks orchestrated by Kaká, the 2007 FIFA World Player of the Year, and efficient set pieces from attacking midfielder Elano typify Brazil's offense. Luís Fabiano, the point man, was the team's leading scorer in qualifying (nine goals, including two each in big wins against Argentina, Chile and Uruguay), and he had five goals in as many games at the Confederations Cup—two in the final against the U.S. One concern heading into South Africa: How does one counterattack a team, such as North Korea, that rarely attacks?
Kaká will get back on defense when he has to—with luck, not as often as he had to at Germany 2006. He should get valuable help from Melo, a surprise starter who first capped in March 2008.
Juan and Lúcio, both veterans of '06, make a solid defensive core, but left back has been a serious problem for the Brazilians. They tried six players at the position in qualification, only to see the likely filler, Filipe Luís, suffer a broken ankle that will probably keep him out of South Africa. That void might not be so crucial were Robinho more willing to drift back and mark from his spot on the left. Goalkeeper Júlio César, meanwhile, is quick off the line and is already considered one of the world's best.