It is the final all us neutrals were wishing for as Brazil take on world champions Spain in the iconic Maracana stadium tomorrow.
The two powerhouses were heavy favorites to make it to Sunday’s final, but both struggled in their semi-final games, with Brazil just edging past Uruguay in a scrappy game. Spain won on penalty kicks after playing out a scoreless draw against Italy, who dominated and created more during the game.
Nevertheless, the two giants showed they have the grit and determination of champions and will both now face each other in a hotly anticipated final on Sunday.
Meanwhile, defeated semi-finalist Uruguay and Italy will faceoff against one another on Sunday before the final in the third-place play-off.
Brazil 2-1 Uruguay
Brazil edged past Uruguay to make it to their fifth Confederations Cup
in a highly charged affair in Belo Horizonte.
The record three-times Confederations Cup champions secured a 2-1 victory thanks to late header from midfielder Paulinho.
After a fragmented opening, the game burst into life when a penalty was awarded for a foul on Uruguay captain Diego Lugano by Brazilian defender David Luiz.
The penalty was delayed as Brazil players surrounded Chilean referee Enrique Osses and the stadium erupted in fury. The long wait appeared to effect Uruguay forward Diego Forlan who struck his shot tamely allowing Brazil keeper Julio Cesar to turn the effort around the post.
The rise in volume in the stadium seemed to momentarily shake Brazil into life with the hosts attacking and probing their opponents. However, they were unable to find a break through and the game once again became scrappy with a piece of good fortune, mistake, or moment of brilliance seemingly the only way to break the parity.
And so it proved with local boy Fred forcing in an effort with his shin after a fortuitous deflection sent the ball into his path to put Brazil one goal up just before half-time.
Brazil were probably hoping to build on their lead during the second-half, but were pegged backed immediately after the restart when Thiago Silva rounded off a series of defensive errors by passing the ball to Uruguay forward Cavani, who took a touch before firing past Julio Cesar.
Brazil pushed forward in search of a goal with Uruguay happy to play on the counter. However, neither team appeared to have the class or composure to hurt the opposing side and the game seemed destined to head into extra-time.
But just as it seemed the bell was about to ring Brazil struck the knock out blow through Paulinho. The Tottenham Hotspurs target rose highest at the far post to head in a Neymar’s corner from the left to spars scenes of joy and send Brazil into the Confederations Cup final for the fifth time.
Spain 0-0 Italy
(Spain win 7-6 on penalties)
Favorites Spain made it to their first ever Confederations Cup final with a 7-6 penalty shoot-out win over Italy.
The semi-final was a repeat of last summer’s Euro 2012 final where Spain romped to a 4-0 victory of Italy. However, this game was always going to be a closer game and indeed it was Italy who largely dominated.
Italy dominated a high-tempo first half employing similar tactics to that which Bayern Munich employed against Barcelona in their semi-final win over the Spaniards—staying tight and compact defensively and breaking quickly down the Spanish flanks.
The approach appeared to cause the reigning World and European champions problems with Italy looking dangerous every time they went forward.
The Azzuri came into the semi-final without striker Mario Balotelli, who injured his thigh in the quarters, and missed his presence as they spurned chance after chance—with Italy wing-back Christian Maggio the biggest culprit, missing three gilt-edge opportunities.
However, the Italians could not find the break through and the game headed into extra-time.
Italy’s earlier efforts meant they began to tire in scorching heat with Spain taking control during extra-time. But the reigning World Champions also struggled to break the deadlock, though they almost scored a last-gasp goal when Italy keeper Buffon unconvincingly pushed Xavi’s long-range shot onto his left-hand post, before the game headed into a penalty shoot-out.
Both Spain and Italy’s keepers, Iker Casillas and Luigi Buffon, were virtual bystanders as the first 12 penalties were expertly dispatch with ease—with Antonio Candreva’s chip the pick of the bunch—before Bonucci fired over the bar.
The miss left Jesus Navas the opportunity to send Spain to their first Confederations Cup final, and the new Manchester City player made no mistakes firing low to the left to set up a mouthwatering final against hosts Brazil.
Brazil vs. Spain
It’s the final all the neutrals were been hoping for as the historically best team in soccer, Brazil, faces arguably the best side in the world at the moment, Spain.
Spain are appearing in the competition for their very first time, whereas reigning Confederations Cup Champions Brazil are in their third straight Confederations Cup final and fifth overall.
These two teams have surprising met only eight times, with their last meeting ending in a 0-0 stalemate in a 1999 international friendly. Brazil edge the overall meetings with four wins to Spain’s two (W4 L2 D2).
Spain are unbeaten in the last two encounters (friendly matches in 1990 and 1999), but their only competitive win against Brazil came way back in the first round of the 1934 World Cup.
It is unusual for Brazil not to be favorites, especially when they are playing in their own backyard, but on Sunday they will start as underdogs against Spain who have won the last three major international tournaments they have been involved in (Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, Euro 2012).
Nevertheless, there is a sense that Spain’s aura of invincibility is beginning to wane and that the rest of chasing pack is catching up, so Brazil will be confident of their chances.
However, they will have to acclimatize to playing without the ball for large periods of the game, as Spain no doubt will have the lion’s share of possession. But when Brazil do finally get the ball, they will have to use it correctly.
Bayern Munich used the flanks to attack Barcelona in the Champions League with great success and Italy did the same in the semi-finals, so Brazil will probably follow suit and do like wise.
A Seleção possess skill and pace on the flanks with the likes of Neymar, Lucas Moura, Dani Alves and Marcelo and big strikers in the middle, so they have all the tools necessary to hurt Spain.
But whether or not Brazil can survive Spain’s surging waves of possession is yet to be seen.
The 21-year-old player will be plying his trade with most of the Spanish team next season when he joins Barcelona, but first he will experience what it is like to play against them. Spain are a tremendous side, but they have shown themselves to be vulnerable down the flanks and that means tomorrow’s final could be a field day for Neymar who is a bundle of pace, trickery and skill. The Brazil number Ten, who has three goals and two assists, usual occupies the left flanks and if Brazil can get him into one-vs.-one positions against the Spanish full-backs they could be half-way to winning their third Confederations Cup.
Spain have been the dominant force in world soccer over the last five years by suffocating teams and forcing them into submission with their tiki-taka possession soccer. No team before has worshiped and selfishly kept the ball like Spain do. Xavi has been the key to their style of play, starting and conducting their plays like a conductor instructing an orchestra. Brazil are used to bossing games with possession, but against Spain they will definitely play second fiddle, and if Xavi gets in mood and starts stringing together plays it could be a long afternoon of chasing the ball for Neymar and company.