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Lucio ready to impose Dunga's will

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IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO: Coach Dunga (left) believe in hard work and discipline as a means of winning trophies.
IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO: Coach Dunga (left) believe in hard work and discipline as a means of winning trophies.

Fernando Duarte

Shy, unpredictable, rarely showing emotion and not bothered by what the media says and thinks. In this era of the passionate huddle, fist-pumping exhortations, sudden displays of delight verging on delirium, those passive characteristics are not usually high on a manager's list when looking around the dressing room and deciding who should get the captain's armband.

But Brazil coach Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri (Dunga), is different. And so, by definition, is his on-field leader, Lucio.

Manager's man

When the Internazionale defender can be coaxed out of a reticence of which Paul Scholes would be proud, the reasons become clear: words such as discipline, hard work, persistence and winning tumble out. There is much of the manager in the captain.

Lucio is the man to channel Dunga on the pitch in South Africa and to impose on teammates and opponents the authority that once oozed from the former Fiorentina and Stuttgart midfielder.

“The armband does not turn me into a better or more special player,” Lucio, 32, says.

“I am just one of 11 guys on the pitch fighting for my country. Some people have said that I resemble Dunga in his playing days in terms of behaviour on the pitch, especially because we both played in German football and were brought through by the same club in Brazil (Internacional) but I reckon that we just believe in hard work and discipline as a means of winning trophies in football.”

Last Saturday Lucio won his third trophy of the season, completing a treble of Serie A, Italian Cup and Champions League with the defeat of Bayern Munich, where he played for five years before Louis van Gaal showed him the door last summer. The Dutch coach considered the defender too unpredictable, especially when he went into his famous bombing-forward mode that used to make Brazilian TV commentators question his sanity.

High on confidence

Winning the Champions League for the first time is a further boost for a player whose confidence has been high with the national team in the build-up to his third World Cup. Lucio was one of the few players not to be castigated by the media and fans after Brazil's quarterfinal defeat to France at Germany 2006. The more enduring memory of Lucio was his precision when tackling — he did not commit a single foul in Brazil's first four matches four years ago.

His cult status with the fans increased during last year's Confederations Cup, where a last-gasp header gave Brazil a 3-2 victory against the USA in the final, adding that title to the 2007 Copa America already won under Dunga. Brazil also led the South American qualifying table.

Critics still point to Lucio's lapses of concentration, such as the slip that allowed Michael Owen to open the scoring in England's defeat to Brazil in Japan in 2002. But after a season punctuated with heroic performances for Inter in the Champions League, including an epic clash with Chelsea's Didier Drogba over two legs, even some of the more sceptical have been holding their hands up.

“I am not one of those who keep press cuttings,” Lucio says. “It's simply impossible to please everybody and the more you concentrate on your job, the less you will be annoyed by opinions. A lot of my colleagues in the national team abide by this rule. But I have had worse times with the critics in Brazil and people seem to be recognising a bit more that I have the same desire for the team to do well.”

The early years were a story of persistence. His rise to professional football included a schedule where training sessions were mixed with his work as a paperboy in Planaltina, a small town just outside Brasilia. “I used to get up at 5 a.m. to deliver the papers, then spend the rest of the day in school and in training.

“It was hard, but I always tried to see the better side of things. The bike journeys before sunrise helped with physical conditioning. For me, the past has to be a trampoline, not a couch.”

When it comes to the non-stop discussions about Brazil's style of play, a debate encapsulated when fantasists such as Ronaldinho were left out of this summer's squad. “Everybody is entitled to an opinion and I do respect what people say. But we have a group that won every competition in the last four years and that has beaten a series of opponents like England, Italy and Argentina.

“To those who complain about style, I just say nothing is more beautiful than winning. This is the kind of spectacle we should be giving to people.”

Will he, like his manager 16 years ago, be lifting the World Cup on 11 July? Lucio claims the idea has not crossed his mind. “In comparison to 2006, we certainly will arrive at this World Cup with less favouritism. We have a very strong group that has been through thick and thin, and the majority of the players have never won this competition, so I presume they will be hungrier than ever.”

Tough group

After Brazil was drawn into what arguably is the World Cup's toughest group, alongside Portugal, Ivory Coast and North Korea, Lucio prefers to concentrate on his team's first-round opponents than entertain thoughts of the final. He is looking forward to another duel with Drogba on June 20 in Johannesburg.

“That guy is one of the strongest strikers I have played against, both in technical and physical terms. I was so knackered after the game at Stamford Bridge that I could barely move. [During the game] Drogba started shouting at me and the referee because of a foul and I gave him an earful.

“It came out in Portuguese, but I guess he understood pretty much what was going on. Intimidation is one of the few things that makes me mad in football.”

After his latest clash with Drogba, Lucio will have five days to catch his breath before coming up against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal. It is clear why Brazil, and Dunga, are so dependent on their hard-working, disciplined and extremely talented captain. © Guardian News and Media 2010

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