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Monday, July 1, 2013

Confederations win and the Unstoppable Brazil

Photo credit: FIFA

Brazil won its third consecutive Confederations Cup today, in style, and versus the World Cup champions Spain. Might they be on their way to their sixth championship at next summer's tournament? Considering that it will be based in Brazil and the strength of the current team, a degree of certainty is in the air.

The star is Neymar, that much is clear. His quick movements, fantasy and goals say it all. Oh, and his recent transfer to Barcelona pretty much seals it for him. Is he better than Messi, as Pele asserts? Not quite. Not yet. Maybe not ever but only time can be the judge.

The real strength and difference in this team is the midfield. The team's formation today was reminiscent of Spain's at last year's Euros. Four attackers and two holding mids. Of course you have Marcelo and Dani Alves patrolling and exploiting the flanks and suddenly there are 6 players attacking. It reminds us of formations in the early days of soccer, before the art of defense was introduced.

Hulk and Fred are two obvious forwards, yet Hulk is partially withdrawn to feed Fred--and it worked. Then there is Neymar as a Messi-esque number 10 and Oscar as a number 8 in a slightly more withdrawn position. Paulinho and Luis Gustavo act as an anchor in the back with good passing, even if not the box-to-box players we are used to like Michael Bradley. 

Brazil took it to Spain today with speed and aggressiveness and won the game. They won it by pushing their line all the way to the Spanish defense so that the tiki-taka could not commence. Xavi had no connection with Iniesta and Torres never got the ball. Luck and defense also played a part in this with David Luiz's save late in the first half and Sergio Ramos' missed PK. Things may have been different but we should also consider Brazil's extra day of rest and the fact that Spain went all the way to penalties in the semifinal versus Italy.

There is one other type of soccer that caught my eye today as I watched the Selecao play. Total Football. Were they playing Dutch soccer? Seemed so, especially in their recovery. Scolari has been studying his squad, which he rates lower than his World Cup champions of 2002. He has used its youth and speed to his advantage and introducing a more streamlined Brazil that is less defensive than Dunga's and lacks the jogo bonito of years past. 

Outside the Maracana the people of this Amazon nation asked for equality. Their screams for justice carried into the stadium attached to tear gas. It infected the crowd and team in the opposite way, to grow beyond the despair and sadness for a better outlook of what Brazil can be. It's true that great economic injustices have occurred with the erection of new stadiums and infrastructure for the Confederations Cup and next year's World Cup. But it's also true that this is the game of the people and for the people. Surely there are ways the two worlds can coexist. Reality and sport. In life only athletes can live in both worlds. But let this tournament's non-sport incidents serve as a reminder for how much the sport owes the everyman.

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