Dunga faces first test; Riquelme back

UPDATED: 15:45, June 25, 2007

CARACAS: Dunga faces his first competitive matches as Brazil coach while playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme makes an Argentina comeback at the Copa America, the South American championship.

Riquelme's last minute inclusion, after he led Boca Juniors to their sixth Libertadores Cup title in midweek, has made up for the absence of Brazil pair Kaka and Ronaldinho, who both asked to be rested from the tournament starting next Tuesday.

Kaka and Ronaldinho apart, the 12 participating teams will be almost at full strength for the June 26-July 15 tournament, reversing a recent trend in which many countries have come to see it as a chance to experiment.

Three years ago in Peru, the Copa fell in the middle of the World Cup qualifying campaign in which the 10 South American nations play each other twice.

Several teams, including winners Brazil, responded by fielding reserve sides.

Similarly, the 1997, 1999 and 2001 tournaments also failed to attract many of the region's top players, again due mainly to bad timing and fixture congestion.

This time, the competition falls one year after the World Cup and three months before the start of the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.

As a result, nearly all the teams are beginning new cycles and for the coaches it provides an invaluable chance to test their teams.

Some, such as Brazil's Dunga who captained the 1994 World Cup-winning side, are only just starting out.

Famous for his snarling, never-say-die attitude during his playing days, Dunga had no coaching experience when he was appointed last August following Brazil's lacklustre World Cup performance in Germany.

He has been thrown in at the deep end with the defending champions facing Mexico, Chile and Ecuador in Group B in the east of the country.

Mexico, who like the U.S. take part by invitation, have also begun a new cycle under a top former player, Hugo Sanchez having finally been given the job he has craved for so long.

Ecuador remain under the leadership of Luis Fernando Suarez, who steered them to the second round at last year's World Cup.

Riquelme's change of heart - he quit international football in September claiming criticism of his performances had made his mother ill - is good news for coach Alfio Basile, who is beginning a second stint in charge of Argentina.

Basile, the last man to steer Argentina to a major title, is chasing his third Copa America having won it in 1991 and 1993. His side face the ever-dangerous Paraguay, Colombia and the U.S. in Group C.

Hosts Venezuela play against Uruguay, Peru and Bolivia in Group A, which appears to be by far the easiest.

Venezuela have put a huge amount of effort into organizing the tournament, ambitiously spreading it around nine cities.

Source: China Daily/Agencies

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