Brazil Win Confederations Cup with Modern Mixture
By Alex Fairchild
As heat and humidity infiltrated the Rio de Janeiro air, it could only make one think back to a rather chilly night in Bavaria. Two months ago, Bayern Munich, a side that dominated possession in its domestic league, set the reputation of FC Barcelona ablaze. In Rio, the women were in sleeveless tops, while in Munich they were wrapped in scarves.
Sunday saw Brazil do the same to Spain.
The "favorite" was demolished, shamed, and - dare I say - dethroned. In the end, the team that could play physical football won. On April 23, it was Bayern Munich and on June 30, it was Brazil.
In both of the side's previous matches, they won the possession fight. When they beat the Spanish behemoths, they lost that battle, but won the evening's war.
Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba were in the defense for Barca and Spain. Sergio Busquets, Xavi, and Andres Iniesta were there as well - the same midfield passing trio that took on Brazil.
Munich sat back for most of the night, parking the bus. Brazil were proactive, pressing the day lights out of the visitors.
The eventual Champions League Winners knocked the Catalan about the pitch. Brazil clipped Spain's heals, slinging in reckless, yet effective sliding tackles. Last night, Brazil were Munich incognito.
Fred's opener on two minutes came via aerial passes that bamboozled Pique and Alba. Had Casillas got dirty, he may have prevented the first goal. The Brazilian wanted it more, slamming the ball home while on the turf.
Similar to Bayern Munich, Brazil were tough to stop going forward. Neymar was sensational down the left, giving Alvaro Arbeloa fit after fit. Marcelo did the same, over-lapping the No. 10 multiple times. When Spain's weak link botched his defending, Pique was dragged over to help in vain.
In the early going, the yellow shirts just kept attacking, whether they had the ball or not. Luiz Gustavo and Tottenham target Paulinho bodied Iniesta and Xavi on multiple occasions. Over the course of the match, Luiz Gustavo created 6 turnovers. Paulinho had three interceptions.
It was a sensational, high-paced opening. A barrage. The Selecao were all over La Roja.
But as the night wore on, Brazil wore down. After the first quarter-hour, the pressing let up, but Spain seemed to relent too. Long ball after long ball was booted forward to Fernando Torres. They tried to copy their opponents, but did so to no avail.
Like a desperate American football team, they saw that their ground game was thwarted, so their quarterbacks looked to the air for a pack of sub-par receivers.
When Spain did gain possession on 15 minutes, they committed too many red shirts to their opposition's third. Arbeloa was left with the Brazilian talisman, Neymar, and used excessive force to pull down the winger who would have been free as bird. Had the pass been weighted better, Brazil's night would have been easier, as the Real Madrid back would have been sent to his locker room.
Despite Spain's dominance on the ball, they failed to find Torres. On 39 minutes, he had only touched the ball 15 times - a team low. Had the Chelsea man been able to have the ball at his feet, the Spanish could have been a bit more potent. However, the job David Luiz and Thiago Silva did on him must be commended. The former had to have used his experience marking the Spaniard from those endless hours on the Blues's training ground.
The demise of one attacker's career was on display, while another's was clearly on the rise. A moment before the intermission, Neymar changed the match. The kiss he blew to Gonzalez on Wednesday was hysterical, yet immature, though there was nothing immature about the decision he made when Oscar held the ball up. Each read the other as well as the Barcelona men, who have been together since their teen years, do each week. While Oscar waited, Neymar tagged up his run, before the Chelsea man unleashed his compatriot behind the Spanish rearguard. Needless to say, Neymar smacked the ball by Iker Casillas using his canon of a left foot.
Down 0-2, Spain needed a tactical switch. Neymar and Marcelo danced around Arbeloa, hailing the right back a cab, which he must have taken advantage of at the intermission after he received news that Cesar Azpilicueta would be fed to the dogs in his place.
Even though the change was made, del Bosque's straight swap was exploited moments after the break. Marcelo bodied one Spaniard, before rushing down the middle of the pitch. The eventual assist found an on-running Fred, who got the ball after he and Neymar double-teamed the halftime sub. With Azpilicueta focusing on Neymar, he forgot about the night's first goalscorer. Neymar's dummy allowed the ball to trickle to Fred who passed it by Casillas.
In the following minutes, Gerard Pique continued to cover for his teammate, who failed, like Arbeloa, to stop Brazil's ingenious duo. The two dribbled the Spanish a combined 8 times over the 90 minutes.
The substitution of Jesus Navas looked a bright move from del Bosque. Now a Manchester City player, Navas did extremely well after his introduction on 52 minutes. He gave Marcelo a particularly difficult time. Within moments of his entrance, he had the left back in trouble. Navas's step-over led to Marcelo bringing down the 27 year-old in the box. Unfortunately for Spain, Sergio Ramos could not convert.
At that point all hope was lost. A half-hour from time, Spain had exhausted their three substitutions. The World Champions were demoralized, frustrated, and fatigued. After their grueling match with Italy and one less day of rest, one could make the case that La Roja were unlucky. However, Italy won their match on penalties, against an Uruguay that gave Brazil a run for its money.
Even a fully fit Spain would have struggled against a Brazil so energized and powerful.
The match on Sunday night did reveal some weaknesses of the Spanish that they had ignored and got away with for so long.
Three years ago, Spain had Carles Puyol. In their semifinal against Germany, they struggled to score, but were able to grind out the win. Puyol was not afraid to toss his body around in the box, whether he was attacking or defending. On that night, it was his bullet of a header that saw his country through to the Final. Without Puyol, Spain, and Barcelona for that matter, are a bit weak. They did not threaten on corner kicks or set pieces outside of shooting distance. It was simply too easy for Fred to nod balls out of the area.
Spain's creativity was lacking as well. Only Navas produced chances. Juan Mata looked slow, while Iniesta and Xavi were too slow to exploit Brazil. Perhaps del Bosque will bring in some players from the U-21 European Championship squad that took the tournament by storm. Spain need that. Creativity will be required to win the next World Cup, because their passing game has been figured out - and talented sides, like Brazil, will be able to sniff them out before going in for the kill.
There are a few concerns for Brazil. Namely David Luiz, who did his part throughout the tournament. However, during the Final he seemed overzealous, going on several forays into midfield, making Gary Neville's infamous PlayStation reference ring true once again. In addition, the full backs are a concern. Dani Alves is barely a defender, as Barca play him very high up the field. Marcelo does the same, but his defending is suspect at times. It certainly was today when he committed to Navas. Spain stretched Brazil down the flanks and gained a few opportunities by catching the wide backs off guard - something Scolari must be careful of come next year.
The Spanish are down, but not out. This team must become more physical. The same goes for Barcelona, if they wish to succeed outside of La Liga. A few years ago, the small, technical players were running circles around the brutes. However, the plot has twisted, as teams, like Brazil and Munich, now mix the brain and brawn together, forming a super-team of sorts that can possess and scrap. These teams can play a bit of samba one moment, before blazing the pitch via their counter attack the next. Modern football requires the best to do it all. The days of specialization in one style of play are no longer acceptable to achieve greatness.
In less than one year, the eyes of the world will watch Brazil. The protests which dominated the national news networks will be a sideshow compared with what will occur on the country's football pitches.
However, the Confederations Cup victor has never triumphed in the following World Cup. In the heat and humidity of their homeland, this Brazilian XI will look to make history by becoming the first to do so. They will need to possess in one game and grind out a win in the next. If they can compete like they did on Sunday, and like Munich did on that brisk April evening, Brazil will return to its glory days.
All stats from WhoScored.com