Dunga puts his faith in Robinho
Brazil boss confident rejuvenated City misfit can subdue Ivory Coast
WHEN the inquests were being conducted forensically by the Brazil coach after his side had found it an almighty struggle to subdue North Korea's energetic battlers on Tuesday, it may have seemed unlikely to Premier League watchers that Dr Dunga's findings should centre on the soothing balm provided by a certain Robinho.
What, Robinho? The infuriating, inconsistent, moody maverick who can go missing when you most need him? The half-hearted customer whom nobody at Eastlands has missed all that greatly since he disappeared back home to Santos?
Talk to Brazilians and it is intriguing to find he is not regarded in this vein whatsoever. Indeed, Kaka may be the guardian of the hallowed No 10 shirt but it is the man at No 11, whose baby face belies his battle-hardened international experience, to whom a nation is looking while the Real Madrid galactico seems to be so out of sorts.
Maicon may have been the man who provided the perfect samba release with his extraordinary strike against North Korea, but it was Robinho who appeared to personify Brazilian fantasy, the man, Dunga fancies, who can make the difference again, with Ivory Coast their next opponents tomorrow at Soccer City.
When the draw was made in December, this was the fixture that most enraptured the world, the idea of the five-time champions, with Kaka at the helm, having to subdue the team best equipped to be Africa's flag-bearers, spearheaded by a rampant Didier Drogba.
Things have changed somewhat, with the question-marks hanging over Kaka since he returned gingerly from injury and Drogba being hampered by a cast on his broken right arm. Yet nothing has happened to stop this still being seen as the most drool-worthy fixture of the round, with the Brazilians, spared the tedious headache of having to open up an energetic eight-man Korean defence, now expecting the Ivorians to make this the open spectacle everyone is craving.
Again, though, Robinho will be the key. "I'm in a good place right now and I want to keep getting better," he beamed after his inch-perfect pass enabled Elano to finish the job against the Koreans.
He is a man rejuvenated by his loan move to Santos, almost unrecognisable from the Manchester misfit; Brazil trusts in him in a way England never could.
"I am very pleased with him," explained Dunga. "And just think that it was only last year he was with Manchester, where nobody loved him, and some even wanted me to drop him."
Very unlikely. Robinho is one of the first names on the team-sheet these days, having earned 71 caps and with a Copa America title and two Confederations Cups to his name. Roller-coaster club form overseas at Real Madrid and Manchester City? Nobody cares about that back in Sao Paulo. To England, he may seem a dilettante; to Brazil, he is a passport to success.
Especially with all the concern over Kaka. Robinho is absolutely key for Dunga because, rather than utilising him as a striker, he believes he can also replicate Kaka's deeper, creative brief if the Real Madrid man continues his patchy form.
"For me, there would be no problem if I had to play in a slightly more withdrawn position. Also Julio Baptista (the old Arsenal 'Beast') has been training really well and he can take on Kaka's role as he did at the Copa America," said Robinho, while being keen to play up the fact that he believes the God-fearing No 10 "can still win a game on his own on his day".
So, of course, can Drogba, and the Ivorians are hopeful that he will be able to begin the game after playing the last 25 minutes of the goalless draw with Portugal. "If Drogba plays, it will be very great for us," said Emmanuel Eboué yesterday.
"But even without him, we've got confidence in ourselves."
They are particularly confident in their ability to keep Robinho and co at bay. The Arsenal defender said Sven-Goran Eriksson had introduced badly needed defensive discipline to the team. "We are so happy to get Eriksson as our manager because now when we play we are more solid and more compact."
Brazil's goalkeeper, Julio Cesar, is not worried about the discipline on show in front of him, but he is still fretting about a combination of the dreaded Jabulani and the bitter winter chill which reduced him to little more than a frozen statue against Korea until the visitors caught Brazil cold right at the end on Tuesday. "I hope not to concede one of those (blunder) goals," muttered the man reckoned to be the best goalkeeper in the world at the moment.
He added: "It's an occupational hazard but when it happens in a World Cup, it is magnified and it can be ungratifying."
Or hilarious fun, depending on who you support. (© Daily Telegraph, London)