Football is a game of centimeters, with a very small margin for error. Pass just a fraction too early or too late and it’s a mispass. A second too quick or too slow and you’ve missed the ball. But you’re surrounded by the centimeters that you need to win; they’re there every minute and every second of the game. You have to fight for every one of them; you have to run yourself into the ground for that. You have to fight tooth and nail for that extra centimeter – because when you add up all those centimeters, what you get is the difference between victory and defeat.
As Brazil took on Spain in what was assumed to be the “World Derby”, fans were cajoled to choose sides – should they go for Tiki-Taka or Brazilian Samba? However, in the end, much to the joy of the millions of Selecao fans worldwide, Samba triumphed over the mechanical Tiki-Taka; Brazil embarrassed Spain in one of the grandest stadium in the world – Maracana.
Brazil hit Spain with a force that they had not seen in quite sometime, thereby making total mockery of the current FIFA rankings. A side ranked 22 not only outscored and outplayed the number 1 side, but did so in a manner, which according to some is perhaps the end of Tiki-Taka. While the discussion regarding the death of the Spanish style of football might be premature, Brazil has shown two things in this tournament – firstly, they CAN host an International tournament, even under the constant domestic and regional turmoils and secondly, they can beat the best with elan.
The Confederations Cup was in troubled waters as soon as the teams landed in Brazil. From protests to riots to tear-gas to rubber bullets – the police tried everything in their arsenal to stop the protests from hampering the tournament. In any other part of the world, football would’ve been hampered and the tournament might even have been scrapped. But then again, this is no ordinary country, this is Brazil – the land which taught the world how to play and win beautifully. No matter how much the protesters fought before the start of the match, at kick-off, every one of them stopped and cheered the teams on the field. Not because their demonstration was any less significant or the world was watching them, but because what they were witnessing was football – their religion, their bloodline, their dream and their hope.
The Brazil team on display in this tournament did not have a few stars and some were even dropped. However, that did not stop them from going out on each and every occasion and giving their last drop of sweat to their cause. Too many times Brazil have been written off, too many times they have been derided for their style of play and too many times their Samba was treated as an outdated way of playing. FIFA Confederations Cup 2013 showed not only that Samba was alive and kicking, but well on its way to be among the best in the world once more come next year. Hardly a year remains from now till the World Cup 2014, and this was Brazil’s tournament to showcase not only their capability to host such a grand occasion but also to silence the critics who wagged their tongues when Brazil got a free pass to participate in the World Cup. Brazil is the only side to have participated in every edition of the World Cup and that is not a mere co-incidence.
Selecao this time went in with Scolari to reignite their quest for a sixth World Cup title and after a difficult start to his tenure; he has bounced back and managed to rally his players around him. From Dunga’s unsuccessful claim to Olympic gold last time, where they were knocked out by Mexico in the finals to the present success over World and Euro winners Spain, Brazil has come a long way. Starting the tournament as one of the favorites, Brazil sidestepped Japan, Mexico, Italy and finally Uruguay to earn their place in the final; Spain, on the other hand, steamrolled almost every team that dared to cross their path. Their only hurdle came against Italy, but a Balotelli-less side could not triumph; ergo, Spain appeared in the final, hoping to complete their trophy cabinet.
While Brazil has played exceptionally as a team, throughout the tournament, few of their players have risen above the others and showcased their potential. The foremost among them has to be Fred, who is the finisher that Brazil were missing for so long. Finisher, and not striker. For too long, the striker position was rotated among many players but none of them were able to clinch it. Finally, it was Fred, who rose above others by displaying an uncanny knack to be at the right place at the right time – a la against Uruguay. When Neymar lobbed the ball over Muslera and he tipped it with this fingertips, everyone must’ve thought that another chance had gone begging. However, Fred appeared out of nowhere and with a tiny jump shot, put the ball in the far corner. Fast forward to the final, when inside the opening two minutes, the ball fell into the Spanish penalty box. While Fred fell to the ground, wrestled by Pique and Arbeloa, the ball bounced up and down before rolling just ahead of Fred. With Casillas too on the ground, it took the genius of Fred to hit the ball from that position. These are the moments that Brazil will look forward to, knowing very well that while the whole world will focus on Neymar and his bag of tricks, Fred will be there to score at every given opportunity.
Another outstanding player for Brazil has been David Luiz. Playing through the tournament with a broken nose, his dedication, commitment and work rate has been outstanding, possibly second only to Hulk, who was a beast throughout the pitch. When Pedro rolled the ball past Julio Cesar, it was Luiz who was at the end of it to thwart Spain’s chance of a goal. While he has been a little hot-headed on few occasions, Luiz has excelled in the company of Thiago Silva, who has marshaled his troops superbly from the back. Hopefully after such an amazing tournament, the “Sideshow Bob” comments will stop coming! The Brazil players were not afraid to play their own brand of football throughout the tournament and with flicks, back-heels, dummies, step-overs – all on display, it served as an amazing concoction of a brand of football which not only provides results but is also fun. Think of Paulinho’s audacious chip in the final and you’ll know. After winning the ball, he could’ve done anything with it – passed it or gave a through ball. But he chose to do what was least expected of him. He chipped the ball and if Casillas was hardly a foot ahead of his position, it might have been one of the most audacious goals in this year’s Confederations Cup.
One player whose stock has risen the highest will be Neymar. Before the tournament started, he was branded as a choker for the national team. Having achieved almost every possible accolade with Santos, his performance for the Selecao was often ridiculed. From the first match itself, Neymar has grabbed the headlines and in every subsequent match, his performance had an effect on the final score-line. Yes, sometimes he was selfish, looking to take a shot when others were open for a pass; but consider this – other than scoring goals, he has been a key figure in the intricate inter-passing between Fred, Hulk and Oscar. It will be wrong to say that he pulled all the strings up top, but he did have a more than significant contribution towards the final score-line. Hopefully, after this tournament, people will stop calling him the “youtube player”.
Brazil have come a long way since Lucio’s headed goal that gave them victory in the earlier Confederations Cup and with the current crop of players, all in their 20’s, they can seriously look to dominate world football for some years to come. Nothing is more important than the World Cup and come next year that should be the only goal Brazil will focus on.