Duvel Pierre is a law student and resident of Kansas City, Missouri. His mother’s family is from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He has been the writer for the Brazil World Cup Blog for over a year.
Half Time Heroes: What was your first reaction upon hearing that Group G contained your country Brazil, surprise finalist North Korea, African heavy weights Ivory Coast and one of your fiercest football rivals Portugal? Portuguese midfielder Simao told FIFA .com recently that : “It’s the toughest group at the competition” Do you agree with him?
Duvel Pierre: Its a difficult group, no question about it. When it originally came out I thought it was the group of death. I worry a little more about the Ivory Coast than I do Portugal, who we crushed 6-2 in our last match against one another. However, Ivory Coast underachieved at the African Cup of Nations. They have star power in a few positions, but this is not a complete side.
So to answer your question, after thinking about this longer, I think Group D is the group of death. You have three nations who reached the Round of 16 in 2006, plus an extremely talented Serbian team.
HTH: What’s been the reaction by the management of the Brazilians? Does your Coach Dunga see your group G opponents as a threat?
DP: I think the overall attitude from Dunga and company is that the group is what it is. There wasn’t a panic, and he fully anticipates winning this group.
HTH: Everyone loves the Brazilians for their Joga bonito and all that but what about this team? Do they still have the same strengths that has characterized Brazilian football over the years?
PT: I think the team still plays with flair, but Dunga has certainly brought a more disciplined brand of football to the national team. One characteristic about this team versus the past, is that its world class at three of the defensive positions and keeper. Julio Cesar was arguably the top keeper in the world in 2009. Lucio is in top form, and was outstanding at the Confederations Cup. The other central defense spot is played by Juan, Thiago Silva, and Luisao, all excellent defenders. So this is certainly a newer strength for the national team.
One past strength that is probably lacking would be in the midfield. Brazil under Dunga relies on the counter attack and plays with two defensive midfielders, Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo. Kaka and Elano/Ramires make up the other two spots. Brazil basically plays a 4-3-1-2 with this lineup. As a result, the midfield is very dependent on the play of Kaka. Dunga’s tactics have made some matches a bit of a grind. It might not be as fun to watch at times, but this style has been successful in the modern World Cup.
HTH: Any weaknesses that you see in the team? Does stories like Robinho buying bags of condoms during the World Cup qualification series and partying with the boys after the game while his club team cannot find him, and tales of Ronaldinho’s partying worry you? Can Dunga keep the teams discipline?
DP: I think Dunga can keep this team disciplined during the World Cup. We didn’t hear of any incidents when the team was in South Africa for the Confederations Cup. The CBF has picked a small town in Angola as their training site immediately before the tournament starts. I saw a picture of the hotel they will be staying at during that time period and it probably is the worst hotel anyone on the national team has stayed during their careers. In comparison, the team trained at posh spot in Switzerland in 2006.
The national team has been focused when it counts under Dunga. There was a big backlash against the partying after 2006. As a result, I think everyone will take a serious, business-like approach to this summer.
HTH: Speaking of Ronaldinho he is in great form for AC Milan but Dunga does not appear to like him? Will he make the World Cup squad for South Africa?
DP: Dunga has obviously been asked this question a lot. He has been rather defensive when the question comes up. He has only given very general statements about Dinho not being in his plans right now. I think when all is said and done Dunga is going to have to pick him. The team currently is a Kaka injury from throwing in the towel for 2010. Even if Dinho is not in the starting XI, at his current form he is capable of replacing Kaka.
HTH: Brazil played Australia at the last World Cup and I’m sure some players from that group game still have the scars to prove it. What do you know about Australian football?
DP: I know that it is an improving brand year after year. Pim Verbeek has maintained the progress that was made under Guus Hiddink. I think there is quality in the midfield with Tim Cahill and the very underrated Mark Bresciano. If Australia makes it to the knockout stages again I would not be stunned.
HTH: How do you think your team will adapt to the conditions in South Africa where teams can expect high altitude, differing weather conditions and those ubiquitous vuvuzelas that will be blasting for the whole game?
PD: Well we obviously had the benefit of getting a taste of these conditions during the Confederations Cup. Additionally, during qualification, we have to go Quito and La Paz, two cities with insanely high altitudes. Its a challenge, no doubt about it. However, Brazil is probably more prepared to handle the conditions than any nation except South Africa clearly.
HTH: What kind of support can your team expect in South Africa?
PD: Brazil is the most popular national team in the world. I think in every match, except perhaps the Ivory Coast match, the crowd will be overwhelmingly supporting the team.
HTH: Are you happy with the Coach and the way the team is playing leading in to the World Cup and is there anything you would change?
PD: Dunga has produced results, plain and simple. We won the Copa America, the Confederations Cup, and finished first in the daunting South American qualifiers We won in Argentina for the first time in a billion years. In 2009, the team was very consistent in their play. My problem with Dunga is the player selections more than anything else.
Julio Baptista is a good example of this. Here you have a player who never starts for his club team. Only really plays in the last couple minutes of Roma matches, if at all. I think he has scored once this year for Roma. However, he is selected over Diego and Ronaldinho. He is the guy that will be called upon to replace Kaka if he were injured, and you would be crazy to think he is capable at pulling that off.
At left back, Dunga has played musical chairs at this position. In the last two years we have seen Filipe, Marcelo, Juan, Kleber, Michel Bastos, Andre Santos, Gilberto, and Fabio Aurelio get called up to the national team to try and nail down this spot. Fabio Aurelio’s call-up was for the England friendly, but he had to pull out with injury. If you are uncertain about a position, I think it makes to most sense to pick our most experienced and consistent player in Fabio Aurelio, but for whatever reason Dunga is thinking of something else.
HTH: Tell us the player in your team that annoys you the most and why?
PD: Robinho. The guy shows up to play in the big games, however he is garbage at every other time. Nilmar has outplayed him on the national team for the past year in my opinion. His step over move is the worst kept secret in sports.
HTH: The player you like the most?
PD: Lucio. World class player. Absolutely consistent. Monster in the air, and makes a huge runs down the pitch. John Terry has nothing on Lucio.
HTH: Any good young players to watch out for?
HTH: Well Nilmar is still fairly young. I think he is a guy who could have a big tournament. Michel Bastos, who has been stellar at Lyon this year is another. I think he could be the starting left back this summer.
HTH: Lastly please give me a prediction on how your team will progress and also who will be the winner and loser of the World Cup?
DP: I think that Brazil will host the 2014 World Cup as the cup-holders. I think the Ivory Coast match will be difficult. However we know Lucio, as he did this week in the Champions League, will neutralize Drogba. I fully expect us to win all three group stage matches. In the final, I have gone back and forth on who will be the challenger. Spain is the attractive pick, but I don’t think they’ll get there. Like the 1994 World Cup I think we’ll face a tough Netherlands side in the quarters, and in a surprise, will play Italy in the final again.