Brazilian National Team Players doing their famous celebration dance
Brazil is a country with a rich soccer (futebol) history. All you have to say is the name Pele. Hosting the Confederations Cup and World Cup next year has greater significance for Brazil then what happens on the field. The vibrant country has a lot to prove to itself and the world. It wants to be seen as a player on the world stage, not just on the soccer field. Staggering poverty and crime are just a few of the obstacles that Brazil has to overcome but Brazilians are always optimistic about their future, both on and off the field.
The crowd at Maracana Stadium was noisy, hoping for and maybe even
anticipating a triumph by Brazil. The Selecao rewarded the fans with a
comprehensive victory over the best national team of the 21st century,
an ego-boosting 3-0 smothering of world champion Spain in the Confederations
Cup final on Sunday night.
But Brazil is focusing on the really big prize: the 2014 World Cup that it hosts
"We know that the tournament that we will be playing next year will be a lot
more difficult," Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said. "Now we have more
confidence. That's what we needed."
In the stadium that will host the 2014 World Cup final next July 14, Fred put
Brazil ahead in the second minute, Neymar doubled the lead in the 44th with his
fourth goal of the tournament and Fred added his fifth in the 47th. While there
was a crowd of 73,000 in the renovated stadium, outside protesters clashed with
riot police on the final night of the two-week prep tournament.
"Brazil has shown to the world that this is the Brazilian national team and
that we must be respected," said 21-year-old Neymar, awarded the Golden Ball as
the tournament's top player. "I think that today we had a great victory against
the best team of the world, with some of the best players in the world."
In a matchup of new and old powers, the five-time world champion defeated the
reigning world and European champion and ended Spain's 29-game, three-year
winning streak in competitive matches. Spain lost a competitive game by three
goals for the first time since a 3-0 defeat at Wales in a World Cup qualifier in
"We are happy with what we have done over the last few years," Spain coach
Vicente Del Bosque said. "But one loss — you have to look at it, but not
overreact to it. We are not content with the loss. But when a team is superior,
you have to accept it. It was a deserved defeat."
Brazil won its third straight Confederations Cup, and is unbeaten in 57
consecutive home competitive matches since 1975. Yet, no reigning
Confed Cup winner has gone on to capture the following year's World
Spain, which had not lost a competitive game since its 2010 World Cup opener
against Switzerland, had a miserable night. Sergio Ramos sent a penalty kick
wide in the 55th and defender Gerard Pique was ejected by Dutch referee Bjorn
Kuipers with a straight red card for fouling Neymar in the 68th.
"The first minutes and the last minutes of the halves are critical," Spanish
defender Cesar Azpilicueta said. "And they scored their three goals at the
beginning and ends of the halves, which is the worst time. Those are the most
Eliminated in the quarterfinals of the last two World Cups, the Selecao
entered the tournament having not played a competitive match since the 2011 Copa
America. Brazil had slipped to 22nd in the FIFA rankings, between Ghana and
Spain, ranked first for the past 20 months, is the most accomplished national
team of recent decades, winning its first World Cup in 2010 between titles in
the 2008 and 2012 European Championships.
But in the stadium where 170,000-plus watched Brazil lose to Uruguay in the
last game of the 1950 World Cup, Brazil dominated La Furia Roja.
"The champion is back," the crowd chanted.
It also didn't take long before the fans — in a sea of yellow jerseys --
started teasing the Spaniards, chanting "Wanna play, wanna play!? Brazil will
Spain had been unbeaten in 26 matches overall, including friendlies, since a
1-0 loss to England in London in 2011 and had outscored opponents 69-11 in
competitive matches since the loss to Switzerland in South Africa.
But Spain had not played Brazil since a 1999 exhibition, and they hadn't met
in a competitive match since the Selecao's 1-0 win in the first round of the
1986 World Cup in Mexico.
"We knew we were going to encounter a physical game with lots of fouling,"
Spanish midfielder Andres Iniesta said. "We lost to a very strong team, and the
small details let us down."
Fred opened the scoring after a cross into the area by Hulk in the second
minute. The ball bounced off Neymar near the far post and Fred, who had fallen
while trying to reach for the cross, shot with his right foot while still on the
Brazil added to the lead after Neymar exchanged passes with Oscar and then
sent a powerful left-footed shot over goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
Fred got the final goal from just inside the area, sending a low shot to the
far corner. Hulk started the move with a pass to Neymar, but the striker let it
go as Fred came running behind him.
Spain was awarded the penalty kick after Marcelo fouled Jesus Navas inside
the area. Ramos, who skied a penalty kick for Real Madrid against Bayern Munich
in the 2012 Champions League semifinals, sent this one wide.
Spain's best chance before the penalty came with Pedro Rodriguez in the 41st,
when he entered the area clear from defenders on a breakaway. His low shot beat
goalkeeper Julio Cesar, but David Luiz came rushing in and slid in front of the
goal line just in time to deflect the ball over the crossbar.
There were protests outside the stadium during the match, with police using
rubber bullets and tear gas to keep demonstrators from getting too close. A wave
of anti-government protests has swept across Brazil in recent weeks, and many
affected the Confederations Cup host cities as demonstrators complained of the
costs of hosting the World Cup.
On the field, it was a heated match from the start, with players from both
teams pushing and shoving each other a few times. Even the substitutes got into
a shouting match.
"We played a very good match," Scolari said. "It allows us to have a better
idea about the path ahead of us."
Jordi Alba Celebrates Spain's Semi-Final Shootout VIctory
The beauty of this Spain team is that it keeps evolving. After technical skill and the ability to retain possession finally overcame the neurosis of past failure at Euro 2008, there came the years of control in 2010 and 2012, as
World Cup and another European Championship were collected playing safety-first keep-ball. For all the criticism of its supposed negativity in Poland and Ukraine there were signs of another Spain emerging, one that had begun to come to terms with the problem posed by an opponent that sits deep against it.
It is an issue any possession-based side will have. If you dominate the ball
to the extent that an opponent despairs of ever winning it back, that opponent
will eventually simply stick men behind the ball, allowing you possession but
trying to deny you space in the final third to create any goal scoring
opportunities. Spain's response for a long time when faced with such an opponent
has been simply to keep passing. The process is attritional but Spain
essentially knows that as long as it has the ball it isn't going to concede and
that, eventually, an opponent is likely to be worn down. A mistake -- and a goal
-- will come.
At the Euros, Vicente del Bosque, the Spain coach, spoke again and again
about "control." But he also spoke about "profundidad" -- depth of
field. If an opponent packs men behind the ball, what is lost is depth of field:
Spanish attacks essentially start higher up the pitch and that means that
"verticalidad" -- verticality, playing the ball towards goal -- is far
harder. The risk is that the team with the ball ends up playing too
horizontally, going back and forth across the pitch without making any progress,
without generating the burst of speed necessary to puncture a well-drilled
That is why Jordi Alba is such an important addition. Although ostensibly a
left-back, he is a converted winger and has many of the technical attributes
you'd expect of an attacking player. But vitally, he has great pace and stamina,
working up and down that left flank, and seems to have the gift of timing his
runs to arrive in space. He did it against Italy in the final of the Euros last
year and he added another two in the 3-0 win over Nigeria on Sunday.
Both those games were a little unusual in that Italy and Nigeria actually
tried to engage Spain high up the pitch and did leave space behind them. For
Spain that is a rare experience and against Nigeria it was one with which it
wasn't entirely comfortable, yielding numerous chances, particularly in the
first half, that better finishing might have punished. It may be that Spain, as
Barcelona did against Bayern Munich last season, is not very good at defending
-- or at least not at defending in the sense of thwarting an opponent coming at
it. It seems to happen often with gifted possession sides that they get so used
to defending with the ball, reducing the risk by denying the opponent the ball,
that they effectively forget the mechanics of what to do when they don't have it
and an opponent does attack them -- and of course Alba and Gerard Pique are
both Barca players.
But what Alba offers is a player who can arrive at pace onto a sideways pass,
and so turn horizontal movement into vertical movement. There are, essentially,
two ways to beat a massed defense: go round it or go through it: Alba has the
pace to create overlaps -- and conveniently does so on the left, where Spain,
with Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta sharing the midfield and forward duties,
are naturally narrow -- and he can also go through by dint of coming from deep
Just as importantly, Alba can actually defend. Dani Alves performs a similar
role on the right for Barcelona (and it may be that against better opponents
Barca decides next season it must temper the attacking urges of one or the
other) but his defensive inadequacies have regularly been exposed at
international level -- most notably against Paraguay in the 2011 Copa America
when his haplessness made the winger Marcelo Estigarribia look so potent he
earned a move from the French second division side Le Mans (who had loaned him
out to Newell's Old Boys in Argentina) to Juventus.
Alves hasn't yet been exposed in the Confederations Cup, although with he and
Marcelo (who may be even worse defensively) both pushing up, Brazil looks
horribly vulnerable to counterattacks that hit it wide. Del Bosque,
instinctively cautious, counters that threat by balancing Alba with Alvaro
Arbeloa on the right. Arbeloa seems almost archaic now, a fullback who actually
defends, but he is key to how Spain play, often shuffling across to function
almost as a third center-back (a role Sergio Busquets can also fill, dropping
back from deep midfield) when Alba advances.
Much has been made of the success of Spain at youth level, which seems to
suggest its success will endure. Perhaps the most alarming aspect for the rest
of the world, though, is that the team those players will break in to has been
together so long, has evolved so smoothly, that it has the rhythm and internal
balance of a club side.