Well this is what it all has come down to, the past two weeks of Confederations Cup football reaches its climax at the Maracana this evening as hosts Brazil have the chance to retain their title in front of their own fans provided they can defeat Vicente del Bosque’s imperious Spanish side with Brazil boss Luiz Felipe Scolari believing victory can restore lost pride, “I think what would be so important for us… with a victory we would regain a lot of credibility and respect from our own fans in Brazil.” The Brazilians have managed to completely overcome all the pre-tournament pressure put on them by expectant home crowds coupled with poor performances in friendlies against England both home and away, with the performances of Neymar being particularly outstanding right throughout the competition which was set alight by the twenty one year olds wondrous volley into the top corner of the Japanese net.
The Spanish who were the media’s pick as tournament favourites before the competition began have not disappointed with La Roja easing through Group B without every really getting out of second gear defeating all three of Uruguay, Tahiti and Nigeria to set up a semi-final clash with Cesare Prandelli’s Italy in the inferno like heat of Fortaleza. This however was the first time Spain were tested and boy were they tested with the Italians passing the ball at such a quick tempo in their own half that the famed Spanish pressing game was rendered useless and it was only courtesy of Italy being unable to take any of the chances they created that Spain have reached the showpiece final via a penalty shootout.
Luiz Felipe Scolari will have undoubtedly absorbed all that went on in Fortaleza on Thursday evening and have seen how Spain struggled against a team that passed the ball quickly, often taking no more than three touches before moving the ball on within their own half. It gave Italy a vital amount of time in possession of the ball which many teams have only been able to dream of when facing up against the World Champions and with Brazil possessing defenders who are excellent on the ball in the form of Dani Alves, David Luiz and Marcelo we may well see Scolari’s side attempting to try and shut down the Spanish pressing effort in a similar way.
It would be foolish to simply ignore the fact that Spain had a bad day at the office in Fortaleza with Iniesta being the only real positive for La Roja until the introduction of Jesus Navas midway through the second half with the new Manchester City wideman giving Giorgio Chiellini a torrid time down the right hand side. Spain were really disorganised at the back with Jordi Alba putting in a sub-par performance at left back which allowed Christian Maggio and Antonio Candreva to create multiple openings on the right for Italy, del Bosque will be more than aware that Jordi Alba will have to improve ahead of tonight’s final with Dani Alves and Hulk posing far more of a potent threat on the right flank.
One thing that has become apparent about Brazil’s play this tournament is that the Selecao are all too comfortable to look to find Neymar at any given opportunity with much of what has been good about Brazil going forward this tournament coming through the enigmatic Brazilian on the left hand side. This is a worry for me as against a side such as Spain it would be very easy for Brazil to become predictable and Spain would then simply double up the marking on Neymar with Arbeloa and Sergio Ramos shuffling to their right to counter the threat of Neymar which would then see Sergio Busquets just drop into the centre of defence to cover which we have seen him do on numerous occasions with Barcelona. Brazil have to vary their play, they have to use all three points of the attacking midfield trident with Oscar coming through the middle and Hulk on the right, posing a threat to Spain’s defence in three areas is far better than posing a threat in just one.
Tonight’s fixture may well be the first where we see Fred utilised to the maximum of his ability, thus far in the tournament the Fluminense forward has been very much restricted to the central position in attack just ahead of Oscar and hasn’t been given the opportunity to move into goalscoring positions too often despite having netted three times. Tonight we may well see Brazil really look to use Fred to hold up the ball, invite advancing pressure from the Spanish defence which will then create a gap for Fred to feed the ball into, this is very much how Italy tried to utilise Alberto Gilardino in Thursday’s semi-final but their finishing let them down, you can be sure there will be no such problems with Brazil.
Spain in their preparation for this evening’s match will have noticed several weaknesses in Brazil’s backline which will give them confidence that they will be able to manipulate these weaknesses to their advantage, for example throughout the tournament we have witnessed Brazil being very relaxed, almost too relaxed when in possession of the ball deep inside their own half with Marcelo and Dani Alves trying to run the ball out of trouble and often being caught in possession. With Spain’s rigorous pressing game which we have seen destroy teams in the past, it could well be dangerous for Marcelo and Dani Alves to spend too long on the ball in these aforementioned defensive areas with Pedro and David Silva/Fabregas likely to be closing them down before they have decided what they are going to try and do with the ball. This, should Marcelo or Dani Alves lose the ball, could present Spain with a great opportunity in a dangerous area.
The midfield dynamic created by both teams is a potentially riveting one ahead of this evening’s matchup, with Brazil likely to continue with the as yet successful partnership of Luis Gustavo and Paulinho whereas Spain will line up with an all Barcelona trio across the middle of the pitch in the form of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta. Brazil have dominated the majority of games they have been involved in this tournament through Gustavo and Paulinho with Gustavo breaking up attacks and Paulinho then bringing the ball forward, this has forced opposition midfields to be rendered completely ineffective with Japan’s combination of Endo and Hasebe being put under so much pressure by Brazil’s midfield duo that Hasebe ended up playing as deep as a central defender.
This won’t happen against Spain simply because they have the anchor of Sergio Busquets sitting behind Xavi and Iniesta, Iniesta likes to push forward as much as Paulinho with Xavi when possible willing to do the same, Brazil will not be able to power through the middle of the Spanish midfield in the manner they did against Mexico, Japan and to a degree Italy in the final group fixture, they will have to pass the ball to a player in the wide area as soon as they win it through Gustavo in order for the game not to become congested in the middle. Conversely however if Brazil use Oscar cleverly this evening and deploy him to essentially man mark Sergio Busquets like Sir Alex Ferguson did perfectly with Ji Sung Park against Andrea Pirlo when Manchester United faced AC Milan in 2010, then Brazil could change the midfield dynamic by to a two vs. two scenario in which they have thrived this tournament.
Prediction: I cannot see Brazil changing their style of play to match how Italy played on Thursday evening, I believe Scolari will set his team up in a very similar manner to how he did for the semi-final match against Uruguay and as so the Spanish pressing game will be able to have an impact on the outcome of the match. I do however feel the midfield battle I have described above could be fascinating to watch and depending on how effective Oscar is in shackling Busquets we could well see Brazil dominate the midfield which would allow Brazil to easily get the ball to Neymar on the left hand side. Spain I think will have just too much quality for Brazil and will shade it 2-1.
Follow Chris Winterburn on Twitter @Chriswin4