Brazil Must Capitalise on Early Opportunities to Down Spain's Enduring Dynasty
Spain refuse to be beaten when it matters. Not since Switzerland inflicted an attritional 1-0 defeat in their opening game at the 2010 World Cup have the tiki-taka torturers been felled in a meaningful match.
Via World Cup and Euro 2012 glory, Spain are now 16 games into an unblemished tournament stretch that has carried them to the Confederations Cup final and a most romantic of meetings with hosts Brazil.
Might Vicente del Bosque's pass masters be back at the Maracana in a year's time, staring down a fourth straight major tournament success and with their unbeaten run still alive? You'd have to say it's entirely plausible.
All this talk of their potential demise, of the inevitable fall of a dynasty, yet still La Roja's rule is unchallenged. Xavi and Andres Iniesta are still world-beaters. A new generation rises around their fabulous fulcrum.
Italy had their chances in Thursday's Confederations Cup semifinal and should have been at least two clear by halftime, but it was Spain who finished strongest. It was Spain who were going for the kill in extra time and Spain whose nerve held to win a technically magnificent penalty shootout.
Brazil will go into Sunday's final knowing they can not afford to be as wasteful. Should they ride the euphoria of home support to an early period in the ascendancy, it is absolutely vital Luis Felipe Scolari's team capitalise with a goal.
Remarkably, Spain have not conceded first for a run of 20 games. Not since Antonio Di Natale collected Andrea Pirlo's pass to put Italy ahead in the Euro 2012 group stage have Del Bosque's men been behind, and that lasted fewer than four minutes.
Much has been said about how their exquisite passing game breaks down opponents in the attacking third, but Spain's success is just as much down to what happens in their defensive third. They are supremely organised and achieve their defensive shape at breakneck speed when they lose the ball.
The evidence strongly suggests Brazil won't be inundated with goal-scoring opportunities on Sunday. Where they have an advantage over Italy, however, is in the finishing prowess of those who will likely be presented with them.
Fred is a natural predator. Neymar, Oscar, Paulinho and Hulk—should he start—are all technically gifted players who have the ability to make good on the slightest slip. Had Italy benefited from Mario Balotelli's presence, it's quite possible they would be in the final. And that's why Brazil have a chance at the Maracana.
Defensively, Brazil are far better than their misleading reputation as a team of showmen would have you believe. They boast some of the world's best at the back, and Spain, as they always are, will need to be patient.
Who will win on Sunday?
He has a point. And we shouldn't be surprised if Brazil and Spain serve up a tight battle separated by the odd goal—a match defined by a singular moment of brilliance. Both teams have played capable of curating it, and the winner may well be decided by which of magical talents on show truly comes to the party.
Could we be watching a rehearsal for next year's World Cup final? Germany, Italy, Argentina and a few others will have a say in that, but Brazil are certainly making strides in the right direction under the wise guardianship of Scolari.
Spain are just doing what they always do. Maybe it's down to Brazil to show the world a way to beat them and spark a response to the most dominant international team in history.
As if hosting a World Cup a nation expects you to win wasn't enough pressure.
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