Champions

By Satish Sekar at the Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro © Satish Sekar (June 30th 2013)

The Brasilian Way

For a man who once declared the beautiful game dead, Luiz Felipe Scolari, has either mellowed or come to accept that Brasilians demand style and substance. Scolari took over a side in disarray and turned them into champions in waiting. He did it with legendary fitness trainer Paulo Paixão at his side again.

Brasil inflicted an emphatic 3-0 defeat on World and European champions Spain at the refurbished Maracanã tonight. Fred stole the show with a brace – both scored early in either half. A glorious Neymar strike came just before half time.

I’m so happy because, I have a great team”, David Luiz said after winning the Confederations’ Cup. “Everyone here is so humble. You try every day to try the best things. I’m so happy with this”.

Expectations

The manner of the victory has led to reappraisal of Brasil’s chances next year for the World Cup – the first here for 64 years. Are Brasil now favourites for the World Cup? “I don’t know”, Luiz said. “I know this ream have a lot to grow to improve day by day. That is the right way now”.

Chelsea team-mate César Azpilicueto thinks differently. “Brasil is always favourite for the competition next year”, he said. “The World Cup is in Brasil. I think Brasil has a very good team. A lot of countries has a very good team and always the World Cup is difficult, so I hope that our team is going to continue to progress and to do a good World Cup”.

Under the Cosh

Italy showed that Spain was not invincible. Spain’s tiki-taka football style had never been put under such pressure and been found wanting before, but Brasil struck early and never relented. With less than 2 minutes played Vicente del Bosque’s plan needed to be reassessed.

Hulk’s cross from the right caused pandemonium in the Spanish defence. It rebounded off Neymar onto Álvaro Arbeloa after Gerard Piqué had failed to clear. Fred, managed to hook it in from close range while on the ground.

Brasil created the better chances, the pick being an excellent 30 yard effort by Corinthians’ Paulinho, which was well saved by Spain’s captain Iker Casillas. Spain took almost 20 minutes to produce an effort requiring an intervention from Golden Glove winner Júlio César from Andrés Iniesta.

With half an hour played Neymar put Fred through on the right of the area, but Casillas saved his shot at the expense of a corner. Hungry to impress Fred’s header from the resulting corner failed to test Casillas further.

I think you cannot win every day”, Azpilicueta said. “Today was hard – a very good game. We try our best. Some chances we didn’t score and I think football is the score and they did a good game”.

Football reporter Gabriele Marcotti agrees. He says it is far too early to talk of a crisis in Spanish football. “It was closer”, he says. “If Luiz hadn’t cleared off the line – if the penalty hadn’t been missed …”. Marcotti thinks it shows a far closer match than people think and that Spain does not need to go back to the drawing board.

After all, a poor performance in the previous Confederations’ Cup was followed by the World Cup triumph and an emphatic retention of the European Championship last year. Talk of Spain’s demise is premature at best.

The Sublime and the Sublime

The match turned in the last couple of minutes of the first half. Chelsea’s Juan Mata faced his club colleague David Luiz with Barçelona’s Pedro free on the right. Pedro’s shot easily beat Júlio César and seemed destined for the equaliser, but Luiz had other ideas.

I just tried my best when inside the pitch to help my team”, Luiz said. “That moment was a special moment because I did what I did to save a goal. I did my job. I’m a defender and I tried my best to save my team”.

He’d chased back and slid in to hook it over the crossbar. It was a fantastic clearance that saved a certain goal. The Maracanã chanted his name in unison – not bad for a player dismissed by some as a play-station footballer.

Azpilicueta appreciated it, wryly saying, “I know. I know a lot about him. I know at this Cup he will try to do, so I am not surprised to say that he did that”.

Shortly afterwards Brasil attacked. Neymar played a one-two with Oscar, coming back from an off-side position before the Chelsea starlet returned the ball to him on the left of the penalty area. Neymar blasted it into the roof of the net – a good goal, but by his own standards Casillas would expect not to be beaten by those.

From a potential 1-1 with half-time beckoning both team talks were now drastically different. Del Bosque knew that a difficult task was getting harder, whereas Scolari had a far easier task than appeared likely a few minutes earlier.

A Mountain too High

It was finally catching up. A tough semi-final against Italy: extra time, a day’s less rest and a long flight from Fortaleza to Rio de Janeiro were tiring. Brasil kept Spain under attack and shortly after the restart Fred made it three. Oscar got the assist, which his club colleague, Azpilicueta failed to intercept. Casillas stood no chance.

A lifeline was handed to the Spanish ten minutes into the second half when Marcelo tripped substitute Jesús Navas – penalty. Bizarrely with Fernando Torres in Golden Boot position, up stepped Sergio Ramos. He failed to punish his Real Madrid team-mate’s indiscretion. Queen’s Park Rangers’ Júlio César celebrated Ramos’ miss.

After 67 minutes, despite not being the last man Bjorn Kuipers decided that Piqué’s trip on his new Barçelona team-mate was worthy of a straight red card. The mountain Spain had to climb had become as difficult to scale as the nearby Sugarloaf Mountain.

Eyes on the Prize

It proved too high and Brasil went on to retain the Confederations’ Cup – the third time the Samba boys have won that title this century. They are surely very credible contenders to win the World Cup on home soil next year, but what about Spain?

The last Confederations’ Cup, we felt the same emotions after the semi-finals”, Azpilicueta said. “We need to learn about this effect and to think about the future of the World Cup in one year; how we are going to qualify as soon as possible, but after to do our best World Cup to regain [it] again. I cannot say one team [that Spain should look out for] because a lot of countries have a very good team – a strongest team: youngest team – and they we want to try to continue to our football to our philosophy to try to win”.

 

 

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