Confederations Cup 2013: Biggest Storylines to Follow Heading into Championship

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Confederations Cup 2013: Biggest Storylines to Follow Heading into Championship
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Spain narrowly edged Italy to advance to the FIFA Confederations Cup finals.

Two familiar foes will cross paths with Spain and Brazil clashing in the FIFA Confederations Cup championship match.

Brazil will look to please the home crowd by maintaining its stronghold over the tournament, which the nation has won the past two times. Spain, on the other hand, will look to continue its recent stretch of international dominance.  

Both squads endured grueling semifinal bouts. For Brazil, Paulinho headed in a late corner kick from Neymar to top Uruguay, 2-1. Italy took Spain to the edge, but the reigning World Cup and European champion escaped through penalty kicks.

Will Brazil capture its third-straight crown, or will Spain bolster its case for entering the World Cup as the favorite to repeat? These are some of the biggest stories to watch during Sunday's championship match.

 

Will Spain Show Fatigue?

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Italy nearly knocked off Spain in the semifinals.

Not only did Italy drag Spain through 120 minutes all the way to penalty kicks, but the semifinal win came a day after Brazil's victory.

Will La Roja demonstrate any wear and tear resulting from a gritty battle against Azzurri?

According to FIFA.com, Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque dismissed concerns over his club falling short due to fatigue.

"It shouldn't be an excuse," del Bosque said. "It's a different match. We have 72 hours, others have a bit more, but we want to put on a good show."

Let's hope he's right, otherwise it could be a long day for Spain, who is not used to facing such a stiff challenge like Italy provided in the defensive battle.

They can't afford to show any sluggishness against Brazil, who will come after Spain with much quicker relentlessness than any other opponent they've encountered so far. 

 

Which Unit is Better: Brazil's Attack or Spain's Defense?

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Neymar has scored three goals during the Confederations Cup.

Brazil lost much of its steam heading into the tournament. With a No. 22 world ranking, their once exhilarating squad was sputtering into oblivion.

That quickly changed once the club came home to host the Confederations Cup. A Selecao have tallied 11 goals, including 37 shots on goal, in four tournament matches, reliving the glorious days of their past with a dynamic offense.

Neymar has shattered his international rough patch, scoring three goals alongside two assists during the tournament. With the 21-year-old phenom rolling, Brazil is back to playing an elite level of soccer.

In order to keep that momentum up, Brazil must find an answer to Spain's stifling defense, which has surrendered just one goal during the tournament. Iker Casillas continues to show he is one of, if not the best goalkeeper in the world.

Despite the stiff challenge from Italy, Spain overcame its scoring outage by keeping a goose egg next to its opponent's score. Can they duplicate that performance in the finals?

 

Is This a World Cup Championship Preview?

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Will Spain repeat?

Both squads want to make a statement at the other's expense, but part of their attention is already straying ahead to next year's World Cup. Will Sunday's Confederation final match serve as a prelude to the World Cup's grand finale?

Past trends show a very weak correlation between Confederations Cup and World Cup success. No finalist from the past three Confederations fixtures went on to reach the same point in the World Cup.

Spain certainly looks poised to buck that trend. Rated No. 1 by FIFA, Spain has all the makings of a world champion. Then again, Italy has to feel good about pushing Spain to the brink of elimination. If there were ever a reason to claim a morale victory, that crushing defeat would qualify.

In Spain's way of emerging as a dynasty is Brazil, a frequent powerhouse looking to maintain a seat in the sport's elite class. The nation with the most World Cup victories could prove worthy of vying for title No. 6 with a strong showing against Spain.

Germany and Argentina among others would object to anticipating a Spain vs. Brazil rematch one year down the line, especially since the first match hasn't even started yet. Then again, this star-studded game should be a lot of fun, so it's hard not to wonder what could happen next year.

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