SÃO PAULO — One of the world’s most select groups of individuals has only 10 living members. We’re talking about living captains of World Cup-winning teams, and I spoke to one of them, Dunga, ahead of Thursday’s Brazil-Croatia World Cup opener.
Dunga won the World Cup as a player in 1994, reached the final in ’98 and coached Brazil to a quarterfinal exit in 2010. He spoke to me by telephone (with a translator) from an event at the Budweiser Hotel here at the World Cup.
SI: Brazil starts its World Cup against Croatia. How well do you think coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has prepared Brazil for this tournament?
Dunga: Brazil is really well-prepared. They have some players who have already played and won in Confederations Cup, so I think the team is well-served.
SI: What do you think is this Brazil team’s biggest strength? And what is its biggest weakness?
Dunga: The good thing is that it’s an aggressive team that is also compact. But the fullbacks support the attack so much that sometimes the defense can be a little weak.
SI: What do you think of Neymar as a player, and is he capable of leading Brazil to the title here?
Dunga: He has the quality and the technique and the talent [to do it]. The challenge is to see if he can survive the pressure of the media.
SI: What is the best way to describe how much pressure there is for a Brazilian coach at the World Cup, as you were four years ago?
Dunga: It’s when a president is taking over a population, and he has to take control of everything! (laughs)
SI: If you could go back in time to 2010, there was a lot of discussion over whether you should bring Neymar to the World Cup. If you could go back in time, would you pick Neymar for Brazil in 2010?
Dunga: I didn’t pick him for the World Cup not because he wasn’t a good player, but he didn’t play a lot of matches before that World Cup for the Brazilian team. And his adaptation at Barcelona showed that he would have felt some pressure if he had been at the 2010 World Cup.
SI: You were the captain of a World Cup-winning team in 1994. What were the lessons you learned about what it takes to win a World Cup?
Dunga: That you win the World Cup with minimum details. Nobody would play individually, we would play as a collective.
SI: What is your best memory of winning World Cup ’94 in the U.S.?
Dunga: One was the joke that even the president of the republic could make a penalty. So when he did it, he was really nervous. The other one was when we won the World Cup. The second one was when we won the World Cup. It was indescribable when I was the captain and lifted the World Cup championship trophy.
SI: I’ve always wondered: When you’re the captain and you lift the World Cup trophy, do you think about and practice how you’re going to lift the trophy by yourself in the days before the game?
Dunga: I never imagined it, but we thought it would be great if it happened.