New Brazil Soccer Coach Dunga Invokes Mandela to Answer Critics

Carlos Dunga, rehired to coach Brazil’s soccer team following its record-breaking World Cup exit, invoked former South African President Nelson Mandela and said it’s time for Brazilians to acknowledge their team is no longer the best.

Dunga, 50, is the successor to Luiz Felipe Scolari, the coach whose squad had the worst defeat in Brazil national team history when it was thrashed 7-1 by eventual champion Germany earlier this month in the World Cup semifinals.

That defeat at Belo Horizonte’s Estadio Mineiro ended Brazil’s push for a record-extending sixth title and led to nationwide criticism following comments by Scolari and federation president Jose Maria Marin that anything but victory would be considered a failure. The choice of Dunga, who coached Brazil to a quarterfinal exit at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, was controversial -- with one online poll showing as many as 80 percent of respondents didn’t want him to return.

“Nelson Mandela had everyone against him and without firing a gun he changed the way people thought about him,” Dunga said. “I will have to find my energy from the 20 percent in favor and earn confidence and trust of others.”

Dunga has been a familiar face in Brazilian soccer for decades, captaining the 1994 national team that secured Brazil’s fourth World Cup title when the tournament was staged in the U.S. He was hired to coach the national team in 2006 even though he had no previous experience.

Media Battles

His teams won 42 and lost six of the 60 games he oversaw, but Dunga was unpopular with domestic media -- notably the powerful Globo network that owns the rights to national team games -- after cutting access to the team. Former players criticized his team’s physical and direct approach.

Dunga acknowledged he needs to make more of an effort to build rapport with the media during his second stint as coach, saying he was too focused on results on the field.

“I have to improve my relationship with press,” he said yesterday in a news conference at the Brazil soccer federation’s Rio de Janeiro headquarters. “I think that’s my fault. That’s what I’ve reflected upon over last years.”

Pre-Tournament Favorite

Brazil entered the World Cup as favorite to win, and left with several unenviable records, including those for the biggest defeat by a World Cup host and the national team’s first home loss in a competitive game since 1975. Scolari said the team would win it all, and Marin said “we’ll all go to hell” if Brazil didn’t take the trophy. Dunga said such comments shouldn’t have been made, and that Brazilian soccer isn’t as good as the nation thinks.

“We can’t tell Brazilian people we are going to win the World Cup even before it starts,” he said. “We should stop thinking about being the best, that we have the best footballers. When your opponents look you in the eye and know you are not doing it they will overcome you, they will steal your ball.”

The team struggled to the semifinals with victories against Chile and Colombia before being overwhelmed by Germany, which scored five goals in an 18-minute period of the first half and led 7-0 before conceding a last-minute goal. Dunga, whose contract runs through the 2018 World Cup, said Germany offers a template to the future.

“I was also very fond of planning and organization of Germany,” he said. “We are going to find our new path amongst that. We should be adding Brazil’s personality with that kind of planning.”

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