Estadio Maracana, Rio de Janeiro
30th June, 2013
Not the biggest of the tournaments, but certainly one that may just complete ones International accolades. The FIFA Confederations Cup, Brazil has turned out to be a tournament which did not really bring about any upset but showed the potential of teams who might just go the distance in a year’s time. Italy in particular missed Mario Balotelli against Spain; nonetheless, they matched them with their game and it wouldn’t be exaggeration to say that they even dominated a major part of the match. Brazil on the other hand edged past a spirited Uruguay despite a brilliant performance by Cavani. Neymar, Barcelona’s new poster boy, played a key role in their journey till the finals.
Winner of the first ever Confederations Cup and the defending champions will be prepared for Spanish onslaught. The renovated Marcana stadium will host their favourite team against the European Champions. During his previous stint, the former Chelsea manager played a fluent 3-5-2 with Cafu and Roberto Carlos providing able assistance on either side. This time, he has Alves and Marcelo – very different from their predecessors. The way these two have played is certainly not upto their usual high standards but they still have a year’s time to go. In the middle Thiago Silva has proven his mettle along with David Luiz who has been erratic. Scolari has been a strict disciplinarian and perhaps for such reasons left out Ronaldinho and Ramires – two players who could have added the spark to this Brazilian team.
In the midfield, Scolari has employed the double pivot of Gustavo and Paulinho. And to be honest, they have done their job decently, albeit they are yet to face a top class opponent in Spain or Germany. Whereas, Paulinho has been more of a box-to-box midfielder and scored the winner against an exuberant Uruguay, Gustavo has provided cover to the central defense of Thiago Silva and Luiz. Alves and Marcelo are over ambitious when it comes to attacking and that might just leave the defense a tad too vulnerable for Scolari’s liking. Against Spain, despite having one full back of Alba’s nature and another below-par Arbeloa, Prandelli exploited this by switching to a back three, with wing backs and that gave Italy more control over the game. While both managers in this match will be looking forward to exploit the opposition’s defensive frailties, it can be a memorable match – but rationale says that these two extremely experienced guys will go with a conservative approach.
Ahead of the double pivot the trio of Hulk, Neymar and Oscar are most likely to assist Fred who will be the lone striker. The star of the team has certainly been Neymar, who just secured a big-money move to Barcelona. There were (and still are) doubts over his capability, but Neymar have gone on to prove his critics wrong, to a certain extent. Exceptional performance and some stunning goals against Japan, Italy and Mexico has shown his worth and he will be at the epicentre of both manager’s minds. The most lethal aspect about the young Brazilian’s game is unpredictability and albeit he will be read in future, it in the present that his abilities will benefit Brazil the most. Oscar and Hulk are quality players and it is without doubt that they will add to the armoury. Up front Fred has been effective – he may not have the panache of the former number 9 players, but he certainly has an eye for the goal and more often than not finds the back of the net. Even against Uruguay, Neymar controlled Paulinho’s long ball which eventually ricocheted off Muslera, but Fred found the back of the net with a mistimed and uncouth shot. When it comes to efficiency, Fred is perhaps the new generation of Brazilian strikers who lack the style but has a high efficiency quotient.
Expected Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1) – Cesar (GK); Alves, Silva, Luiz, Marcelo; Gustavo, Paulinho; Hulk, Oscar, Neymar; Fred.
By far the best team on the planet, right now. However, they too have their share of deficiencies. The defense clearly lacks a leader of the calibre of Carles Puyol and it seems unlikely that they will get anybody like him anytime in the near future. Arbeloa is just about okay as a right back. They need to put in a player with a right balance of attack and defense – in short, it’s time Del Bosque gives César Azpilicueta the chance he deserves; but it is unlikely that this will be the match for it. In the middle Ramos and Pique are gelling well – Ramos’ pace and brutal power combined with Pique’s ball skills and composure, is perhaps the only solution for Spain in the long run. Pique, however, has the uncanny streak of surging ahead and going for glory, which leaves the defense in a bit of a jeopardy and fast set of players with counter-attacking skills might just exploit that. And Brazil are just the type of team who would do that. Iker Casillas is back for Spain but the scar of being relegated to the 4th choice goalkeeper at a club, where he’s a legend of sorts (and perhaps a talisman too) has taken its toll and the custodian clearly looks shaken. His talent and courage however makes up for his lack of confidence and in a match as crucial as this, he is certainly the man to guard the fortress.
In the midfield, Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta are untouchables. The trio has shown as to why they are so revered and despite the heat, humidity and the fatigue of a grueling season, they have shown that they still are among the top professionals. In the game against Italy, the battle between Pirlo and Xavi was a treat for football lovers around the globe. Iniesta deserves special mention – he has been peerless and along with Jordi Alba, has been Spain’s foremost player in this tournament. His close control, dribbling and the aplomb with which he goes about doing his job makes him an indispensable part of this Spanish team. And when you have players of the caliber, Cesc Fabregas, Jesus Navas, Javi Martinez, et al on the bench – that certainly says something.
Up front Bosque has to accommodate 3 players and that is a headache for the old man – but a headache which he will certainly not complain about. The Spaniards are spoilt for choice when it comes to the offensive third and most national football federations will give an arm for such riches. However, Fernando Torres has been a shadow of himself in recent years – good work-rate but very blunt in front of the goal. With an abundance of talent (not necessarily strikers), the Chelsea forward’s time might just be running out. Soldado shook off his muscle injury and is available for selection, once again. He might just make the cut. Ideally Navas should start ahead of Pedro, given his fantastic performance the other day and the latter’s form. Partnering them might be Andres Iniesta, pushed up from midfield to accommodate Cesc Fabregas.
Expected Starting Line-up (4-3-3) – Casillas(GK); Arbeloa, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Fabregas; Iniesta, Navas, Soldado.
Players to watch out for
Undoubtedly Spain’s best player for some time now. Iniesta can make the difference between the two teams. The Barcelona midfielder is enjoying a purple patch and has been influential in a lot of crucial games. His partnership on the left flank with Alba is nothing short of phenomenal. The duo can cause a lot of damage, given Alves’ penchant for moving forward. With their positional sense and close control, Iniesta along with Alba has enough potential to use the void left behind by Alves.
It is hard to nominate any other player from this Brazilian squad than the latest Barcelona recruit. There were a lot of scepticism about the huge transfer fee involved for a player who has no experience of playing in Europe, but Neymar has silenced most of those critics with his performances in this tournament. This should be a quality test for Neymar who will be meeting most of his Barcelona colleagues on the pitch for the first time after the transfer.
Spain 2-1 Brazil
It is difficult to foresee a free-scoring game. Both teams will be cautious in their approach and two highly experienced manager will see their teams’ play according to their strategy. Expect as much a battle on the pitch as off it – Del Bosque vs Scolari.