Monday is the 40th anniversary of one of the most precious moments in the history of Brazilian soccer. It was on June 21, 1970, that the national team beat Italy 4-1 in the final of the Mexico World Cup to claim the title for the third time.
Man for man, there is little doubt that Brazil's 1958 team was better. And the achievement of winning the tournament in Sweden, still the only time the South Americans have triumphed in Europe, was the more impressive. But the 1970 boys have a powerful ally on their side -- television. Theirs was the first World Cup to be broadcast live all around the planet. In the bright Mexican sunshine, Brazil's yellow shirts dazzled the world. Ever since, that 1970 team has set the standard by which subsequent Brazil sides are measured -- and usually found wanting.
Brazil has since found itself with an obligation not only to win but also to do so in style. In an increasingly pragmatic age, this is a difficult horse to ride. Come out to play open, expansive football and the opponent will sit back, negate and frustrate, and find plenty of space available to launch the occasional deadly counterattack.
It is not always possible to fulfill the twin obligations. And of the two, there is no doubt which is the more important.
Put 10 Brazilians in a room and ask them if they would prefer to win ugly or lose beautiful, and the probability is that all of them will go for option No. 1.
Noted Brazilian anthropologist
Anyone who believes that in Brazilian soccer having fun is more important than winning has little experience of the real thing.
The 1982 team, for example, is still revered all over the world for the beauty of its play. Back home, it was vilified after the tournament, with coach
Winning, then, is more important than style. They might be obligations of unequal weight. But the tension between them still exists. And stuck right in the middle of it is the national team coach.
Being in charge of Brazil is a lot like sitting in a coconut shy. Things are going to be thrown in your direction, some of them heavy and unpleasant.
The artillery is particularly fierce at the moment, despite a run that has seen Brazil accumulate two years of excellent results and then take that form into the World Cup. The Brazil camp in South Africa is not for the faint-hearted.
First, this is because of the style of the team. Coach
Dunga took over after the failure of the big names in Germany 2006. At first, his "team-over-stars" philosophy was applauded. Before long, though, Dunga, like his predecessors, was being impaled on the twin obligations of winning with style.
Unlike many of his predecessors, Dunga makes no attempt to schmooze the press. Quite the contrary. He seems to treat them as an enemy, to be ridiculed or attacked.
This is in part the consequence of his own history. After the 1990 World Cup, he bore the brunt of the team's failure. The holding midfielder in the side, he became the symbol of the lack of flair in a team that managed only four goals in four games. He was given an especially hard time by the press, and has never forgotten.
Also, it is the consequence of his own nature. He became a very good midfielder, a World Cup-winning captain in 1994. Much more than natural talent, this was the product of sheer hard work, fueled by the desire to prove people wrong. It would seem that this, more than anything else, is what makes Dunga tick. In 1994, he held the trophy aloft with a volley of abuse aimed at those who had doubted him or the team -- and 16 years on he coaches Brazil in the same spirit. He needs an enemy, and the press fulfill this role.
Dunga was justified in cutting back on press access. But he has done it with glee. Whether it is constructive criticism or ill-informed character assassination that he receives, he appears to put it all in the same basket. In his press conference after the Ivory Coast match, he was seen swearing at journalists. On Sunday night, Brazil's powerful
The Brazilian media were gunning for Dunga three years ago during the Copa America in Venezuela -- until his team beat Argentina 3-0 in the final and they applauded him afterward.
Now the stakes are higher. If his team hold aloft the trophy on July 11, then Dunga will gain a far bigger round of applause. Any other result and he will be vilified as the coach who came up with the worst possible combination -- no win and no style, the opposite of what the Brazilians served up 40 years ago.