Spain go into today’s Confederations Cup final (23:00 BST, live on BBC 1) at Rio’s legendary Maracaná stadium as slight bookmakers favourites against host nation Brazil.
The Confederations Cup is a dummy run for next year’s World Cup, but the Brazilian people have seized it as an opportunity to bring exposure to the failings of their government, taking to the streets to protest about the inadequacy of basic services such as education, health care and public transport.
The national football team does, however, appear to have generally escaped their ire and it was the fervent support of those inside the Estadio Governador Magalhaes Pinto in Belo Horizonte on Wednesday that spurred Brazil on to a narrow 2-1 victory over Uruguay.
Brazil were uninspiring for much of the match, struggling to break down a resolute Uruguayan defence who largely stifled the Barcelona-bound forward Neymar (pictured) and were untroubled by lacklustre performances from Fred, Hulk and Oscar.
But the introduction of local favourite Bernard with 25 minutes to play brought a thunderous roar from the crowd, and the combination of the the young forward’s lively, inventive play and the support of their countryman eventually pushed Brazil to victory. The Tottenham Hotspur target Paulinho headed in a Neymar corner with four minutes remaining.
It was a display that had been coming, as despite winning all three of their group stages matches, Brazil had rarely impressed as a unit, instead relying on the individual talents of players such as Neymar to provide the incision their team play was incapable of producing.
Neymar has largely risen to the responsibility, providing three goals and two assists in four matches and taking the shot that was parried to Fred for Brazil’s opener against Uruguay. But he has also been guilty of wasting possession and showed the uglier side of his game with public displays of petulance and gamesmanship in the final minutes on Wednesday.
Brazil have also suffered from problems with balance. Both full backs like to push on, but their tendency to do so has required Paulinho, a midfielder who excels in breaking forward from the centre of the pitch, to play a more disciplined role than he is accustomed or suited to. The team is made up of a number of distinct sections that are not yet fully integrated.
Spain certainly do not have that problem, as the bulk of the reigning World Cup and European Championship holders’ squad is made up of players who have been together for a number of years, either at club or international level, and who therefore enjoy an excellent understanding.
Spain secured their place in the final with a penalty shootout victory over Italy following 120 energy sapping minutes in hot, humid Fortaleza on Thursday, which yielded no goals but a fair share of entertainment. With 30 minutes more football and 24 hour less rest, it is clear that Spain will be in inferior physical condition to their opponents in Sunday’s final.
With that said, Vincent Del Bosque’s men are arguably one of the best equipped teams in world football to deal with this disadvantage, as their ability to retain possession should allow them to control the pace of the match to their liking.
Spain began the Confederations Cup with a superb performance in a 2-1 win over Uruguay, a result that was followed by a 10-0 thrashing of minnows Tahiti and a competent 3-0 win over Nigeria. They were, however, less impressive against Italy, especially in the first half, in which Italy’s unorthodox lopsided formation caused Spain a number of problems in defence.
There was also a distinct lack of movement in the final third, with the wide forwards David Silva and Pedro both keen to drop back and receive the ball to feet rather than attempt to get in behind the Italian defence. The introduction of new Manchester City recruit Jesus Navas early in the second half brought greater incision to Spain’s play and put Italy on the back foot.
The much-maligned Fernando Torres put in a lively performance, flashing a chance wide after an excellent turn in the first half and then linking well and providing three key passes in the second. He currently enjoys a two-goal cushion at the head of the top scorers chart. Only David Villa and Brazilians Fred and Neymar have any realistic hope of pipping him.
Brazil v Spain Betting Tips Verdict
These sides last met 14 years ago, so there is no recent precedent to help predict the result of Sunday’s final. Spain have dominated international football for the last five years and despite the additional fatigue they will carry into the match, it is difficult to see them faltering against a Brazil team that is not yet unified enough to compete against a unit as well-oiled as the World Cup holders.
We expect it to be a relatively close match, but it is hard to see beyond Spain adding to their collection of international trophies on Sunday.
- Back Spain to win in normal time @ best odds of 7/4 with Ladbrokes or William Hill.
- Brazil opened the scoring within the first ten minutes against both Japan and Mexico earlier in the tournament and Spain will therefore be keen to keep hold of the ball and draw Brazil’s sting in the early exchanges. With this in mind, back the draw in the “leading after 30 minutes” market @ 4/7 with Ladbrokes.