• FT-PENS

    Uruguay

    2 (2)

    Italy

    2 (3)

  • FT

    Brazil

    3

    Spain

    0

FIFA CONFEDERATIONS CUP

Estadio do Maracanã

* Local time based on your geographic location.

Brazil

  • Fred 2'
  • Neymar 44'
  • Fred 47'

3 - 0

FT

Brazil v Spain: Preview

John Brewin

It was clear who the Fortaleza public wanted to win the second semifinal. Italy's every touch was cheered, and in the penalty shoot-out, Spain took their seven nerveless penalties with Brazilian barracking in their ears. They are feared, appreciated as the team who can stop a home victory.

Jesus Navas' finish for the seventh was as good as his team-mates' had been. As in Euro 2012's semi with Portugal, Spain rode out a storm, had dominated extra time and then laughed off any talk of shoot-outs being lotteries. Their first Confederations Cup final had been reached, and the reception that awaits them in Rio de Janeiro will be infinitely more hostile.

The Maracana hosts its first international final since the Copa America final of 1989, and Brazil will want to repeat the success they enjoyed back then - a win against Uruguay.

What's on the line?

Were Brazil to beat Spain, then the years of doubt that have enveloped the Selecao in the lead-up to next year's World Cup would be forgotten, to be replaced by an equally crippling expectation. Luiz Felipe Scolari must face down the toughest test in international football, perhaps of all time, and a win would guarantee he is in the job for the World Cup next year.

A fourth Confederations Cup beckons, with the caveat that their previous three wins have been followed by crushing World Cup failure. Win, or nothing. Lose, and a deluge descends.

Italy opened a window on how Spain might be beaten, but still it was clamped closed. A sluggish start was not taken advantage of, and Iker Casillas' unbelievable record of not having conceded a knockout goal since the 2006 World Cup finals continues on. The determination in the faces of Xavi and Andres Iniesta during the shoot-out said much, as did the solemnity of Vicente Del Bosque in the dugout. Spain want this trophy to complete the set, and the effort and tension they survived Thursday proved that further.

Style and tactics

Mopping brows after narrowly riding out the familiar challenge of Uruguay, it is time for Scolari to prove that his tactical nous and in-game management are as sharp as they ever were. He can hardly expect his team to dominate possession in the style a Brazilian team might be used to. They will certainly have to sharpen up to guard against their repeated concession of the ball. As ever, getting the ball to Neymar, and Fred, is the aim. The star man gets his chance to play against the country where he will soon be plying his trade. Scolari's usual two-man ballast in front of the defence will be especially crucial here.

There is a possibility that the sweat-drenching conditions of Fortaleza may have drained the Spanish from being able to play their normal pressing and possession game. It certainly looked that way for the first 60 minutes, only for tiki-taka to resume its dominance. The question facing Del Bosque is what to do about his strikers. Fernando Torres showed flashes against Brazil, but looked dead on his feet by his withdrawal. Were Cesc Fabregas to be available, perhaps Del Bosque may attempt the 4-6-0 formation (really a 4-2-1-3) that won the final at the Euros last year.

Players to watch

This is Neymar's big stage, the best chance yet to convince the many doubters in Spain of his true worth. Another goal of the spectacular type he has trademarked in this tournament would go some way to proving he is no new Robinho. Paulinho's winning strike in the semifinal may not have been as celebrated in Daniel Levy's house as it was in Belo Horizonte, as Corinthians may now increase their price, but Spurs look to be getting a fine player. A player whom doubts are beginning to circle heavily about is Hulk, who has had a poor tournament. His replacement by local hero Bernard swung the game back to Brazil in Belo. The diminutive Atletico Mineiro player may be called on to pin back Jordi Alba's surge, or perhaps as a pinch-hitter from the bench.

Same as it ever was, the stars of Spain roll along, though the Italians provided a bumpy ride. Xavi looked tetchy, even in his more favoured deeper midfield position. Perhaps Javi Martinez, brought on as an emergency forward against the Azzurri, may play in his more usual pivot position in harness with Sergio Busquets to stop fast Brazilian breaks. Jesus Navas' pace on the wing added directness to Spain's efforts, and will surely play a part at some point. Were a penalty shoot-out to occur, then it seems shooting to Iker Casillas' right is a good ploy. Three Italians boomed there, and Casillas dived for none of them.

What can we expect?

An atmosphere that could freeze either the hosts or the visitors - or both - can be expected. If Spain maintain their usual possessive dominance, then local frustration is a near certainty. An early Brazil goal, in that it would be an unfamiliar shock to the Spanish, may open out the contest. Spain chasing a game is a sight unseen since the opening match of Euro 2012, and before that, the 2010 World Cup. As was often Scolari's wont in his club days, a few heavy challenges are likely to be thrown in. Brazil can expect a few back if that's the case, and Neymar may be the leading recipient.

Who'll win?

Spain, but they may have to do so after suffering the rare concession of a goal.

To comment, you must be a registered user. Please Sign In or Register