Felipe Melo: Brazil’s new Dunga on and off field

Tough on and off the field, Brazil defensive midfielder Felipe Melo is a lot like his coach Dunga, the man who excelled at the same role with the national team for nearly a decade.

Felipe Melo will be a key part of Brazil’s midfield at the World Cup, just like Dunga was when he played for the national team in the 1990s.

The similarities go beyond playing style. Both are abrupt in their public comments and both cajole their teammates during matches and training.

"We have similar characteristics," Felipe Melo said. "And that’s important. Every team needs a player with a strong character to help out when a teammate is in need.

"We have similar style, always working hard to steal a ball here and there. I never like to lose a challenge, and he was like that too."

Dunga won 96 caps for Brazil, was captain when it won the 1994 World Cup in the United States. He also played in the 1990 tournament, when Brazil fell to archrival Argentina in the second round, and in 1998, when Brazil lost the final to France.

"Dunga dominated his position," Felipe Melo said. "I’m trying to learn from his experience and the tips he is always giving me. He has already won everything – I haven’t."

Felipe Melo was summoned for the first time just months before the competition, thanks to his solid performances with Fiorentina in the Italian league. He has since moved to Juventus.

"Felipe is going through an excellent moment," said Gilberto Silva, the more experienced midfielder who will share the responsibility for breaking down the opposition’s spells of possession.

In Italy’s final warm-up game, Brazil beat Tanzania 5-1 but Felipe Melo made several passing mistakes.

"I admit I made a lot of mistakes against Tanzania," Felipe Melo said. "It wasn’t normal for me, I was too slow, I lacked concentration. But in the other 15 or 16 matches so far I played at a very high level, so I don’t think this one match will erase what I’ve done so far for the national team."

He vowed to lift his game against North Korea.

"I’ll be focused in the opener, there won’t be anything missing there, I can assure you that," he said.

Seeking its sixth world title, Brazil follows the North Korea encounter with group games against the Ivory Coast on June 20, also in Johannesburg, and against Portugal on June 25 in Durban.