In a terrifically exciting final to conclude the 2013 Confederations Cup, host country Brazil capitalized on two first-half goals en route to a 3-0 win over defending European and World Cup champions, Spain.
Neutrals could not have asked for more as Brazil put on a terrific show in all facets of the game.
Here are six things we learned from the clash of these two international giants.
As the Spaniards have dominated world football over the past half decade, coaches for both club and country have tried to design ways to beat Spain’s famed tiki-taka.
In 2009, the U.S. employed a brilliantly executed bunker-and-counter strategy to knock off Spain in the Confederations Cup. In the 2010 World Cup, Switzerland embarked upon a similar strategy to pick up a 1-0 win over Spain in the group stage.
In 2012, Chelsea was able to top Barcelona, the braintrust behind tiki-taka at the club level, in the semifinals of the Champions League using a similar bunker-and-counter strategy.
This spring, in the 2013 Champions League semifinal, Bayern Munich perfected the counterattack strategy v. Barcelona, winning 7-0 over two legs. Bayern’s counter-attacking style produced such a dominating result despite Bayern holding less than 40 percent possession over those two legs.
Brazil, however, did not bunker against Spain in the Confederations Cup Final on Sunday, instead preferring to pressure Spain high and put a body on Spain’s diminutive midfielders every chance they could. They did not allow Spain’s playmakers any time to turn and face goal, any time to connect passes and outmuscled the Spanish players over and over.
Uncharacteristically, or perhaps because they have become so accustomed to teams giving them time and space, Spain was unable to cope with this pressure and repeatedly coughed up the ball in the middle third.
Brazil was able to pounce on these loose balls over and over again and took advantage of Spain’s greatest weakness, their defense, to win the final and the tournament in front of their home crowd.
Brazil’s performances during the 2013 Confederations Cup, not only in the final, but all tournament long have to make Brazil the favorites to win the World Cup in front of their home crowd in 2014.
Despite the distractions of weeks of protests, Brazil proved with its wins over powerhouses like Italy, Uruguay and defending World Cup champions Spain, that they are the team to beat. With David Luiz coming into his own, the creative genius of Oscar and the attacking trident of Hulk, Neymar and Fred, no one will be looking forward to playing Brazil next summer.
Spain’s loss to Brazil, coupled with Barcelona’s loss to Bayern Munich at the club level this spring, has led some observers to declare that tiki-taka is dead.
However, those who believe that should take a moment to consider the following.
Spain played in Sunday’s final in front of an exuberant Brazilian crowd energized by Brazil’s early goal. They also did so with one day’s less rest than Brazil and having played 30 minutes more football as the Spain-Italy semifinal match went into extra time.
It should also be noted that Spain’s tiki-taka is still producing some impressive results. They just seem mortal compared to Spain and Barcelona’s success over the past five years.
In the group stage of the Confederations Cup, Spain outpossessed Uruguay 71 percent to 29 percent and outshot the Uruguayans 16 to 4.
Against Tahiti, Spain had 63 percent of the possession and outshot them 28 to 1. Sure, it was Tahiti, but the final 10-0 scoreline was the most lopsided loss for Tahiti in the tournament.
Against Nigeria, Spain held 58 percent of the possession and outshot the Super Eagles 22 to 13.
Finally, by their own lofty standards, Spain only had a meager 53 percent possession against an inspired Italian side in the semifinals and only outshot the Azurri 19 to 13.
The Spanish performances certainly seem like a decline compared to past performances, but it was only a year ago that Spain utterly dominated Italy in the Euro Final, 4-0.
Only in a bizarre universe would a team that won two consecutive European championships and the last World Cup have their style declared dead. But, obviously, Spain, and their club counterpart Barcelona, are on the slightest of declines.
The two teams hit their peak of success in 2010. Spain won the World Cup that year which was sandwiched in between Champions League wins for Barcelona in 2009 and 2011.
Both teams are still unbelievably good with Barcelona winning La Liga this season and the Copa del Rey last season and Spain winning the Euros last summer.
However, the cracks in the armor have begun to appear. Barcelona has been knocked out the Champions League in the semifinals two years in a row (again, this would be an unbelievable accomplishment for any other team), and Spain was given all it could handle against Italy in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup.
Two of the most important parts of Spain and Barcelona’s success, Xavi and Iniesta, are nearing the end of their careers at 33 and 29 years of age, respectively.
And, the man who was always the rock in the back for both squads, Carlos Puyol, has been beset by injuries for the last two years and is 35 years old. Without Puyol’s toughness in the back, Spain and Barcelona’s defense has become exposed.
While Spain still has a team and a style the rest of the world looks up to and aspires to replicate, they are no longer invincible.
When David Luiz first made his big-money move from Chelsea to Benfica as a 23-year-old, he suffered from a number of unsteady performances not atypical for a young center defender.
However, many were quick to criticize Luiz instead of giving him time to settle with his new club in the English Premier League. Former Manchester United defender turned commentator Gary Neville even infamously compared Luiz to a player being controlled by a “ten-year old with a Playstation.”
On Sunday, Luiz proved his growing maturity once again, helping Brazil to a shutout over the defending World Cup champions in the final of a major tournament.
The best individual moment for Luiz came in the 41st minute when a Juan Mata pass put Pedro in behind the Brazilian defense. The score of the game was 1-0 at the time.
Pedro took Mata’s pass and coolly beat Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar with a nice far post finish. However, Luiz had not given up on the play, and in an effort that is a perfect example for all young footballers throughout the world, Luiz recovered behind Cesar to clear Pedro’s shot off the line and preserve Brazil’s lead.
Prior to the beginning of the Confederations Cup, Neymar finally completed his much-anticipated transfer to Europe, signing for Barcelona.
Many questioned the deal and wondered if Neymar, who has been destroying the competition in Brazil with Santos for years, was really up to the challenge of playing in Europe.
Neymar seemed to take such doubts to heart in the Confederations Cup, putting together a brilliant tournament scoring some of the tournament’s most brilliant goals.
He scored in all three group-stage games, including the game-winning goals against Japan and Mexico and a brilliant free kick against Italy (which he put past arguably the world’s best goalkeeper in Gianluigi Buffon).
Against Spain in the final, Neymar continued to prove his worth with a brilliant goal just before the half, beating Iker Casillas (if Buffon is not the world’s best goalkeeper, than Casillas is) to put the Brazilians up, 2-0.
Neymar was a pest to the Spanish all night, setting up the first goal, drawing a yellow card on a counterattack early in the first half and also setting up Fred in the first half with a beautifully slotted pass in behind the Spanish defense.
Anyone still doubting Neymar’s ability simply wasn’t watching this tournament.
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