Brazil coach Dunga was at the centre of a racism storm at the Copa America here Friday after remarks in which he likened criticism he has faced to discrimination suffered by people of African descent.

In a bizarre outburst on the eve of Brazil’s Copa America quarter-final against Paraguay, the 1994 World Cup-winning captain invoked the issue of racism as he hit out at his critics.

The 51-year-old contrasted the current criticism to the pressure he faced during his playing days, when Brazil went several decades without winning either a World Cup or a Copa America.

“I had the pressure of 40 years without winning a Copa America, 24 years without winning the World Cup,” Dunga said.

“Everything was going badly. I even think I might have African roots, because of all the blows I’ve been dealt.

“It’s as if people saw me and said, ‘That one there,’ and started hitting me.”

Dunga’s choice of words swiftly drew an avalanche of criticism on Twitter, with several voicing disgust at the remarks.

“Outrageous Dunga compares criticism he deserves to the suffering of African-Brazilians,” prominent Brazilian football writer Mauricio Savarese wrote on Twitter, before adding: “I say fire him.”

Dunga later apologized for in a statement released on the Confederation of Brazilian Football’s website later Friday.

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“I apologize to everyone who might feel offended by my statement about people of African descent,” Dunga said.

“The way I expressed myself does not reflect my feelings or my opinions.”

Dunga meanwhile appealed to fans for patience despite a series of lacklustre displays from his team in Chile during the first round, saying stronger Brazilian sides in the past had not faced such severe criticism.

“If a team that was exceptional, that was good, didn’t win, why pressure a team that’s considered to be bad? As I tell fans, my children, sometimes the bad ones win and the good ones lose,” Dunga said.

“People can tell me, ‘Oh, but the best don’t always win.’ I agree, but in 24 years the good ones have to win, so we have to see football in a different way.

“Technique, quality, talent are all good, but not enough to put together a team.”

Brazil are aiming to bounce back from their disastrous exit at last year’s World Cup on home soil, when they were humiliated 7-1 by eventual winners Germany in the semi-finals.

Dunga however bemoaned the negative climate surrounding his team.

“We can’t think everything’s bad, there’s nothing but criticism,” he said.

“We have good values, we have to work, the players are working.

“It’s a team without much experience of these types of matches, they’re learning this kind of competition and the level of difficulty is constantly increasing.”

Dunga meanwhile called on South American football body CONMEBOL to show consistency when asked about possible punishment for Chile defender Gonzalo Jara after he was caught on film attempting to shove his finger in the backside of Uruguay attacker Edinson Cavani.

The Brazil coach cited the four-game ban handed out to Neymar earlier in the tournament following his team’s defeat to Colombia.

“CONMEBOL was tough with Neymar, we expect CONMEBOL to be tough with everybody. We don’t want any special advantages but we don’t want disadvantages either,” he said.

By AFP