Dunga has a point to prove

Brazil, the perennial favourite, is drawn in a tough group with Portugal, Ivory Coast and North Korea. But it would be a great surprise if it fails to cross the first hurdle.

The most successful team in World Cup history, Brazil — it has won the showpiece event five times, in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002 — is once again the top favourite in South Africa. Brazil, which holds the record of having appeared in all editions of the World Cup, has a tough draw though. The team is bracketed with Portugal, Ivory Coast and North Korea in Group G, which is dubbed as the ‘Group of Death'.

Yet, it would be a great surprise if Brazil fails to cross the first hurdle. Set-piece play and lightning fast counter-attacks are its forte. But Brazil is also known to struggle against teams that play too defensively. The team's passing is also not as strong as it used to be. However, its defence is strong and mean as was evident in the South American qualifiers.

Brazil, despite playing to a game-plan that stressed on a defensive approach, which drew severe criticism from the media and fans, had little difficulty in sealing its place for the 19th World Cup with three matches to spare. It eventually topped the 10-team league.

Of the nine victories it recorded in the qualifiers, the 3-1 away win against arch-rival Argentina was the most satisfying. In between, Brazil also won the Confederations Cup, defeating USA 3-2 in the final. In South Africa though, the Brazilians need to be on their toes right from the start.

Brazil is gifted with an array of world-class players in key positions. Julio Cesar has a safe pair of hands and is rated as the best goalkeeper that the nation has seen since Taffarel. And in the defence are stars such as Maicon, Lucio and Luisao who complement the team's attacking force very well.

In midfield, Brazil will depend on the creativity of Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo. They are expected to give good cover to Elano and the peerless Kaka to help them move up and combine well with Robinho and the outstanding Luis Fabiano up front.

Brazil also has a good bench strength with a fair mix of youth and experience. Dunga, who led Brazil to victory in the 1994 World Cup in the United States, was criticised widely at the time of his appointment as coach in 2006 for his lack of experience. But four years down the line, the former Brazilian midfielder has proved himself by helping his team win the 2007 Copa America and the 2009 Confederations Cup. Dunga now has the chance to guide Brazil to what would be its sixth World Cup title and thereby silence his critics.

THE TEAM GOALKEEPERS

Julio Cesar (Inter Milan), Doni (AS Roma) and Heurelho Gomes (Tottenham Hotspur).

DEFENDERS

Maicon (Inter Milan), Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Michel Bastos (Olympique Lyon), Gilberto (Cruzerio), Lucio (Inter Milan), Juan (AS Roma), Luisao (Benfica) and Thiago Silva (AC Milan).

MIDFIELDERS

Gilberto Silva (Panathinaikos), Felipe Melo (Fiorentina), Ramires (Benfica), Elano (Galatasaray), Kaka (Real Madrid), Julio Baptista (Roma), Kleberson (Flamengo) and Josue (Wolfsburg).

FORWARDS

Robinho (Santos), Luis Fabiano (Sevilla), Nilmar (Villarreal) and Grafite (Wolfsburg).

Coach: Dunga.