By Mark Lamport-Stokes
PASADENA, California (Reuters) – For Brazil coach Dunga, it was a case of sharply contrasting emotions on his return to the iconic Rose Bowl Stadium for his country’s opening match in the centenary Copa America tournament.
Twenty-two years ago at the same venue, Dunga captained his country to their fourth World Cup title as they beat Italy in a final decided by penalty kicks.
“The happiest day of my life as a soccer player”, he says with a beaming smile.
In Brazil’s Copa America opener on Saturday against Ecuador, however, the South American giants failed to find a winning edge in an often lackluster encounter that ended as a 0-0 draw.
“We have to improve everything,” Dunga told reporters, speaking through an interpreter, after neither Brazil nor Ecuador were able to dominate the match. “This is not only about the defense or attack, we have to improve as a group.
“We knew how Ecuador was going to play, the way their players play tactically. They were very focused throughout the match. We created chances but the goal didn’t come.”
Eight times Copa America champions Brazil came close to scoring in the third minute when Ecuador goalkeeper Esteban Dreer saved well from Philippe Coutinho, and substitute Lucas Moura headed agonizingly wide with just seven minutes left.
It was clear that Brazil missed the influence of their talismanic striker Neymar, who is skipping the Copa America in lieu of the Olympic Games and watched Saturday’s match from the comfort of one of the hospitality boxes.
LOOKING TO YOUTH
In Neymar’s absence, Brazil is fielding something of an experimental side and they are banking on young hopefuls like Lucas Lima to give Dunga his second Copa crown after they beat Argentina in the 2007 final during his first spell in charge.
“Obviously we’d like to have Neymar here, but this is a top team,” Dunga, 52, said. “Some of them are very young, but they have quality. This is a unique opportunity for these players to show they deserve to be on the first team.
“We have to get better but watching the game (on Saturday) we were only missing the score. We tried to win from the start, but Ecuador are a very strong team, with a compact game.
“If we are to measure performance and analyze, Brazil were always closer to winning. We always want more, but the team performed well and were very strong in defense.”
Asked by Reuters how special it was for him to be back at the Rose Bowl where his penalty kick earned Brazil their fourth World Cup title, Dunga grinned: “It was the happiest day of my life as a soccer player.
“Even these days, I talk to people … and they see that I am very happy because Brazil has (a total of) 130 World Cup champions, me and many others.
“But if I am going to be very selfish, Brazil has had only five (winning World Cup) captains and I was the champion captain in 1994 so this is my greatest happiness.”
Dunga vividly recalls the massive pressure he felt in front of 94,194 fans at the Rose Bowl in 1994 before he took his penalty kick that gave Brazil a 3-2 victory over Italy in the shootout.
“In Brazil, we always say penalty kicks – the president should take them, not the players, because it’s a big responsibility,” he told reporters after a Brazil training session at the StubHub Center in nearby Carson.
“It’s you against the world. The whole planet is watching. And you can’t ask for help from anyone.”
(Editing by Larry Fine)