IF THE fall of a player ever reflected the demise of a team it was in the diminished shape of Kaka here. With six minutes to go and Brazil desperately seeking their mojo the ball fell to Kaka, once the heartbeat of this generation. Time appeared to slow as he rounded the last defender.
This was a chance he would have slotted at his peak. Only the goalkeeper to beat. The 'keeper won the duel.
And so a season of personal failure spread to the national side. Kaka never quite recovered the sharpness eroded in a season of injury and disappointment at Real Madrid. With Kaka reduced, Brazil could not conjure enough of the creative mischief in the final third that is their stock-in-trade.
There were moments in this World Cup when Dunga's team approximated to the Brazil of old, but not consistently. When they were asked to respond yesterday, Brazil were surprisingly flat-footed.
After the final whistle Dunga headed straight for the tunnel and out of a job. There was no great enthusiasm in the first place for the perceived betrayal in his name of the Brazilian way, the subordination of joga bonito to a pragmatic ideal.
Legends of the Pele period -- Tostao and Carlos Alberto -- were among those to rail at the Dunga template. Their assumption that the spirit of Brazil is there to be liberated by the right man will be tested in the near future. It could be that the talent pool in Brazil is shrinking.
Who did Dunga leave behind who might have made a difference? He could not have taken Ronaldinho, who once flickered as brightly as any in the Selecao's history, but who now doubles as a pub player at AC Milan.
Alexander Pato, Ronnie's team-mate at the Rossoneri? You could argue he is here already in the person of Nilmar, a striker similarly ranked but not wholly trusted.
This was no victory for 'Total Football'. For 25 minutes Holland could barely string a meaningful pass together and might have been out of the competition at half-time.
Felipe Melo, he who so offends the Brazilian orthodoxy, sliced open the Dutch defence with a delicious pass on which Robinho gorged. That, one assumed, was the trigger that would propel Brazil to a higher elevation.
At that point Robinho was all that Arjen Robben was not. The time has come to give Robinho his due. The flaky opportunist, bundled off to Brazil through the Eastlands back door, is a player of serious substance in a national shirt. While his opposite number was diving about the pitch like a WWF fraud, Robinho was upstanding throughout. And what a difference it made in the opening period.
Robben is equally blessed but guilty of irritating gamesmanship. The ankle clasp and exaggerated roll has become his signature move. The booking which Michel Bastos received for one challenge on Robben had Dunga shaking the dugout with rage. The Bastos tackle that led to the Holland equaliser brought another piece of shameful Dutch theatre, with Robben slapping the turf repeatedly as if to dissipate the pain.
Maybe the grass on that side of the pitch contains anaesthetic. Robben was up like a shot and sprinting down the wing quicker than a colt in the Epsom paddock on Derby day. The kind of cynical manipulation Robben brings to the game is as pernicious as the treatment handed out by the bruisers who clattered into Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi during the group stage of the tournament. More depressing still is the silence on the issue at FIFA.
There was no excuse for the actions of Felipe Melo, sent-off for stamping on Robben. But there was a degree of sympathy.
Dunga accepted the blame for Brazil's exit. He was out of contract, and might not have been retained had he won in South Africa.
"We are all responsible for this situation -- but I have the greatest responsibility," Dunga said. "We are all extremely saddened -- we did not expect this."
The mea culpa did not stop his critics piling in.
"You should be ashamed to be Brazilian," raged one. Not the way to address a man who captained Brazil to their fifth World Cup.
Kaka was only a few steps behind his coach in leaving the pitch, eyes down, shaking his head in disbelief. This was not the player we have come to know.
Neither were his team. (© Daily Telegraph, London)