The Confederations Cup hasn't had too much drama thus far, as Spain, Brazil and Italy had secured a spot in the semifinals after just two games and Uruguay was all but in after beating Nigeria in its second game.
But get ready, folks, because with the four most talented teams in this tournament advancing to the semifinals, things are about to get wild.
Can the hosts, Brazil, continue their run of strong play against continental rivals Uruguay? Will Italy put a stop to Spain's dominance in recent years at international tournaments? Will Neymar continue on as the tournament's most dangerous player, or will another superstar—Luis Suarez? Andres Iniesta? Andrea Pirlo—seize this tournament?
The semifinals are going to be fun—let's break them down.
Knockout Stage Schedule
|Wednesday, June 26||3 p.m. ET||Belo Horizonte|| |
Brazil vs. Uruguay
|Thursday, June 27||3 p.m. ET||Fortaleza||Spain vs. Italy||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|Sunday, June 30||12 p.m. ET||Salvador||Third-Place Game||ESPN2||WatchESPN|
|Sunday, June 30||6 p.m. ET||Rio De Janeiro||Final ||ESPN||WatchESPN|
The semifinals will feature two continental clashes, as hosts Brazil will take on a dangerous Uruguay side while Spain and Italy will reprise their matchup from the 2012 European Championships, which Spain won going away, 4-0.
Brazil cruised through a tough group with three wins, defeating Japan, Mexico and Italy by a combined score of 9-2. Young superstar Neymar has been the player of the tournament thus far, with three goals, an assist and some truly dazzling highlights.
But Uruguay are not to be taken lightly, led by the dangerous attacking trio of Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan. The South American side may have looked completely outclassed against Spain, but they recovered to defeat Nigeria and Tahiti.
Expect Brazil to hold more possession in this contest, but the dangerous Uruguayan attackers to give Brazil's back line headaches on the counter-attack and on set pieces.
Meanwhile, Spain will surely be favored against Italy, even if the Italians are more than capable of pulling off the upset. The Spanish side barely broke a sweat in the group stage, defeating Uruguay, Tahiti and Nigeria by a combined score of 15-1.
The Spaniards have been dominant in nearly every facet, controlling 64 percent or more possession in each game, according to WhoScored.com. That includes an incredible 75 percent of the possession against Urugauy, Group B's second-best team.
The Spanish side is once again led by a brilliant midfield that includes Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas, and has looked the part of a team that seems primed to defend its World Cup title a year from now.
Plus, Italy is banged up, as Mario Balotelli will miss the semifinals with a thigh injury, Ignazio Abate is out for the tournament and midfielders Pirlo and Riccardo Montolivo are questionable, according to the Associated Press (via USA Today).
Balotelli has been Italy's most dangerous attacker, with two goals and an assist, and his physical presence in the box would have been difficult for the Spanish defense to deal with. His presence will certainly be missed by Italy.
Given the way Brazil has played thus far in this tournament, it seems unwise to bet against them. Neymar has been truly brilliant, Paulinho has been a revelation and this team has a solid spine and plenty of attacking ability to give Uruguay fits.
I see Brazil moving to the final with a 2-1 win.
Meanwhile, Spain's performance against Uruguay was enough to leave little doubt that this team is still the world's best. A full-strength Italian team would be an underdog—one without Balotelli and potentially Pirlo and Montolivo is in serious trouble.
Spain will meet Brazil in the final, defeating Italy, 2-0.
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