Shackles off, Brazil are back to brilliant best
(Raphael Varane 21)
(Oscar 40, Neymar 57, Luiz Gustavo 69)
Clark Kent turned into Superman against France. Twice.
Oscar and Willian unpacked their capes, stuck their underpants over their costumes and went to work at the Stade de France yesterday morning (Singapore time).
One mere mortal playing the superhero is entertaining enough. Two is an audition for the Avengers.
Oscar and Willian assembled and Brazil avenged their 1998 World Cup final defeat at the same venue. Against Les Bleus, they played like Blues released.
Even Jose Mourinho's most staunch supporters must have wondered who the imposters were running the final third alongside the equally exquisite Neymar.
In comparison to Mourinho's inherent caution, the traditionally dour Dunga comes across as a prancing, dancing, beret-wearing Renaissance man.
Liberty, equality and fraternity form the national motto in France.
Dunga borrowed it yesterday morning. He's not quite a revolutionary, but he's no longer a reactionary.
His second incarnation as Brazil manager has witnessed a welcome shift in emphasis in attack.
He has dumped the lumpy, languid target man (think back to Fred at the World Cup, but not for too long. The memories still hurt.)
In place of the static totem pole came Hoffenheim's Roberto Firmino. The 23-year-old never scored, but he scampered around the penalty box like the inventive trio behind him.
The quartet formed a loose, attractive diamond, with Oscar on the left and Willian on the right. Their movement was mesmerising.
Quicker, niftier and far more inventive than the leaden, laboured play at last year's World Cup, Brazil's front four moved with the grace of maypole dancers. They swopped ideas, positions, passes, shots, goals and assists. They positively frolicked. They overwhelmed Mamadou Sakho and Raphael Varane.
Neymar always plays with the impudent grin, irritating defenders with the stuck-on smile, but it's hard to recall the last time Oscar and Willian looked so invigorated.
Oscar's finish for Brazil's opener in the 40th minute was less remarkable perhaps than his positioning.
Firmino's cheeky toe-poke through Varane's legs arrived at the feet of the Chelsea man, 10 metres from goal with only the goalkeeper to beat.
In recent weeks, Oscar has seldom found himself in such positions for the Blues. Against Hull last weekend, he found himself on the bench.
Mourinho has spoken of the fatigue undermining Chelsea's creative output, but Oscar and Willian displayed an effervescence missing from their domestic game.
At Chelsea, their artistry can require a Houdini-like act of escapology to rid themselves of their tactical straitjackets.
Dunga granted them their freedom.
Willian, who was equally out of sorts against Hull, was a revelation. On the right flank, he faced down Blaise Matuidi, Chelsea's Champions League Nemesis, and won. He was everywhere.
His threaded pass found Neymar, allowing the Barcelona striker to burst free and hammer Brazil into the lead. His arrowed corner found Luiz Gustavo's head for the decisive third goal.
A sense of liberation runs through the Brazil line-up. Dunga 2.0 is a marked improvement on its predecessor. The manager now trusts his mavericks.
Dunga discovered the first time round that a soak-and-siege mentality goes against the side's natural rhythms.
Brazilians do not pump balls up to the big man. Neymar's one-man routines before a gushing nation initially obscured the sterile, cautious approach at the World Cup. But it won few admirers and failed miserably.
Calculated risk runs through the Selecao DNA. To err is human. To play safe is suicidal. They pass and advance.
This Brazil side share only a jersey and a badge with the disjointed, dispirited rabble that fell to the German automatons in that harrowing semi-final.
Nine changes in personnel marked the literal transformation, but a refreshing change in style, almost un-Dunga-like, is the way forward for the Selecao.
With Gustavo, Miranda and Thiago Silva on board, the defensive feistiness remains. Only two goals have been conceded since the World Cup.
But it's the 17 knocked in at the other end that bodes well for the upcoming Brazilian redemption exercise otherwise known as the Copa America.
Dunga has cast off the shackles and allowed his forwards to flourish.
The samba beat seems infectious. It stops Oscar and Willian from singing the blues.
Dunga: we're finding the right balance
The revival continues.
Brazil beat France 3-1 in an international friendly in Paris yesterday morning (Singapore time) to make it seven consecutive friendly wins since Dunga was appointed as coach for a second time last year.
The Selecao recovered from falling behind to a Raphael Varane header in the first half at the Stade de France to equalise through Oscar just prior to half-time, before goals from captain Neymar and Luiz Gustavo in the second period secured the victory.
The 51-year-old Dunga (above), who replaced Luiz Felipe Scolari after the ill-fated World Cup on home soil, where they suffered that infamous 7-1 loss to Germany in the semi-finals, said that the Selecao are finally finding the right balance under him.
"I'm trying to give the players confidence after the World Cup and trying to find a balance," said Dunga, who also coached Brazil from 2006 to 2010.
Brazil were still a bit shaky at the back after going in level at 1-1 for the break, but they proved too quick up front for the home side in the second half, with wingers Willian and Oscar tormenting the France fullbacks.
"We played well and we tried to play with speed. We kept our shape well, we were compact," said Dunga, who skippered Brazil to their 1994 World Cup title. "We made some mistakes but, once we got our balance right, we were able to win the game."
This result, against a France team who have impressed under Didier Deschamps, was arguably the best win yet for Dunga in his second spell in charge.
"As Brazil, we have to win and play well, and the team played well. We broke out quickly and had good possession, but nothing was perfect.
"We made mistakes that could have been avoided. We know that France are very strong at set-pieces but, once we rectified that, we found a balance that allowed us to win the match," added Dunga.
He is overseeing a period of transition as Brazil build towards the Copa America in Chile in June.
Dunga insisted that his squad for yesterday's match and tomorrow's friendly with Chile in London was by no means certain to remain the same come the Copa America.
"We have spoken a lot to the players, telling them that if they are here it is because they deserve to be here and because we believe in them," he said.
Meanwhile, Brazil scorer Neymar said that the Selecao's victory was not revenge for the defeat by Les Bleus in the 1998 World Cup final.
"I'm happy with the win, that's what we were looking for. We played a great game," said Neymar.
"It's not a question of revenge. A lot of time has passed, there are different players now, so I don't think it has anything to do with 1998."
It was France's first defeat in a friendly encounter since a 3-0 loss to Brazil in June 2013.
They will play Denmark in another home friendly in Saint-Etienne on Monday morning.
Coach Didier Deschamps admitted that the best team won.
"You can always do better but you have to accept that your opponents have quality, and they showed it tonight," said Deschamps.
"We struggled to get our game going in attack, although we did well from set-pieces." - Wire Services.