Saturday, 4 July 2009

Dunga pilots return to pole

An overwhelming majority of Brazil's all-time greatest sportsmen were footballers. One notable exception within the country's hallowed, crowded pantheon is Ayrton Senna, a motor racing driver extraordinaire whose flair and class echoed that of Garrincha, Pele, Rivelino, Zico et al.

Senna tragically passed away in May 1994, his loss reverberating across the country one month before the USA staged the 15th FIFA World Cup™. A Seleção consequently vowed to win the competition in his honour, and when captain Dunga duly raised aloft the revered trophy, his team-mates uplifted a banner which read: 'Senna, we accelerated together. The tetra is ours.'

Brazil had assumed pole position, something for which Senna was renowned, on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking 12 days before his death, and consolidated it inside the Rose Bowl, Pasadena. It put them en route to hegemony on the global ladder. Indeed, in the 140 months that predated February 2007, Brazil spent just 14 beneath the summit - all during France's reign from May 2001.

Brazilians came to view the most exalted seat at the table as their own personal property, their throne. Having watched fierce enemies Argentina enjoy a nine-month stay at the Ranking's apex, they then looked on with disdain as Spain forcibly snatched control in July 2008, courtesy of their UEFA EURO 2008 triumph, and swiftly proceeded to put distance between themselves and their rivals.

Heading into the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009, La Roja held a sizeable 319-point advantage over runners-up the Netherlands and a cushion of 473 over Brazil, in fifth. Capturing the title would have strengthened Spain's grip on first place, and they appeared on course to do this after a group stage in which they defeated New Zealand 5-0, Iraq 1-0 and South Africa 2-0 to equal Brazil's world record of 35 games without defeat, set an unprecedented 15-match winning streak, and ease through to the semi-finals. There, however, Vicente Del Bosque's charges lost 2-0 to USA.

Brazil swaggered through Group B, a 4-3 reverse of Egypt preceding 3-0 wins over the Americans and Italy. The five-time world champions then put paid to South Africa's chances in the semi-finals, before staging a heroic fightback to edge USA 3-2 in a breathtaking decider

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