Released Robinho vital for Brazil
World Cup 2010: Johannesburg
Manchester City misfit Robinho might have failed to justify his £32.5m billing in the Premier League but in South Africa he is a pivotal part of Brazil's campaign to win the World Cup for the sixth time.
Rested against Portugal, he returned to the Selecao in Johannesburg on Monday as Brazil defeated Chile 3-0 to book a mouth-watering quarter-final tie against the Netherlands.
Robinho was named man of the match after a performance that saw him score his first goal at the tournament - a right-footed strike of exquisite precision from the edge of the box. The 26-year-old almost added to his tally. A low, angled shot was saved by Claudio Bravo before he was later thwarted by a marginal offside decision.
Robinho started on the left but constantly switched with Kaka as the attacking duo rotated either side of central striker Luis Fabiano. We did not see a particularly high number of mesmeric stepovers from Robinho, who at times in the past has appeared to be addicted to them, but I thought it was nonetheless an adventurous performance in which he was constantly seeking out space and trying to make probing, attacking runs.
In short, a player who so often looked frustrated anchored to the left touchline at City seems to be thriving on the licence to roam that he did not have in the Premier League.
"In England, they wanted him to be a good tactical player but he is not that. He needs freedom," said 63-year-old Tostao, who won the World Cup with Brazil in 1970 and scored 32 goals in 54 appearances for his country. "For Brazil, he moves freely. He starts on the left but can go to the right or the centre. He does not have a fixed position."
Robinho, who developed his skills as a young boy by dribbling around gravestones in a cemetery near his house, joined City on 1 September 2008. It was a signing that underlined the scale and ambition of the Abu Dhabi United Group that was on the verge of taking over the club.
But Robinho failed to build on a promising debut season and in January rejoined Santos, the club where he started his career, on loan.
Robinho is described in Brazil as being slightly moleque, which alludes to his cheeky and playful demeanour. But he can also be petulant.
After winning two league titles in his first spell at Santos, he refused to train in order to secure a big-money move to Real Madrid. He then threatened to strike at Madrid in order to ensure the Spanish club sanctioned a transfer to Chelsea, although he ended up in Manchester following City's late swoop.
Tostao rates Robinho highly but admits: "He is a player I hoped would become one of the best in the world but he still is lacking some maturity as a person." Tostao also points out weaknesses in Robinho's play, namely heading, tackling and, occasionally, finishing.
There are plenty of critics who argue Robinho is lucky to be in South Africa. His return to Santos helped him sharpen his game but he found himself up against rising stars Neymar and Ganso, with many in favour of them going to South Africa rather than Robinho.
But Dunga, never one to acquiesce to public opinion, left the prodigiously talented duo at home and has been heavily criticised as a result for selecting a squad heavy on defensive players and light on flair.
Tostao, such a vital component of the incredible 1970 side that triumphed in Mexico, remains unconvinced by Dunga's Brazil.
"I see a lot of imperfections," the former Selecao striker, who now works as a journalist, told me. "Brazil is a team that is a little imbalanced. The left-back Michel Bastos is very exposed because he does not have anyone to help him. Sometimes Robinho does that but if he comes back a lot he breaks the link with players like Kaka and Luis Fabiano."
I thought Brazil's defensive unit were fantastic against a Chile side that had shown an admirable willingness to attack during their previous World Cup fixtures.
Dunga selected Ramires and Dani Alves alongside Gilberto Silva in midfield because he felt their pace would help to neutralise Chile's mobile creative players - and it was a ploy that unquestionably worked. Yellow shirts swarmed all over the opposition every time a Chilean found a threatening position.
However, the defensive team Dunga has moulded in his own image means that Robinho and Kaka are of exceptional importance to Brazil. They provide the samba, maintain their nation's footballing tradition and supply Fabiano with the service he needs.
Kaka had a disappointing season spent in the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid and has hardly sparkled in South Africa, although in one sublime moment against Chile he underlined his importance.
The 28-year-old played what must be the most exquisite and delicate pass of the tournament, one that unlocked the Chilean backline with surgical precision. Just one beautifully weighted touch transformed a square ball from Robinho into a pass that bisected the approaching defenders and released Fabiano for Brazil's second goal.
That moment aside, Kaka cut a largely frustrated figure and, on his return from suspension, picked up another booking for a crude and somewhat uncharacteristic challenge. He lacked the energy and willing of Robinho, who received a generous round of applause from Dunga when he was withdrawn after 85 minutes.
In truth, it was a comfortable victory for Brazil, who are certain to face a much sterner examination of their credentials when they meet the Netherlands.
And as the road narrows, Tostao is hopeful that Robinho, who seems certain to leave City on a permanent basis this summer, will keep Brazil on course for victory.
"He has an incredible ability and I am hoping that he is going to be brilliant in these few matches that are coming," concluded the great Tostao.