Brazil v Spain: Final - FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013

Prior to Sunday night’s Confederations Cup final against World and European champions Spain at the Maracanã, Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari anticipated that victory for his team “would regain a lot of credibility and respect from our fans.”

It’s worth remembering, more so than ever in the afterglow of their astonishing 3­-0 win, what state the Seleção were in as they approached the competition a month ago. Confidence wasn’t high. People around the world were sceptical about the team and its individual components.

The received wisdom was that this Brazil side wasn’t up to the high standards set by its predecessors. They had slipped to 22nd in the FIFA rankings, an imperfect and often derided metric, but an indicator nonetheless of how a country rates.

After their elimination in the quarter­finals of the 2010 World Cup by the Netherlands, Dunga was replaced as head coach with Mano Menezes. It was supposedly a move away from a counter-­attacking, un-­Brazilian style of play, in which the physical appeared to take the priority over the technical, to one that was closer to their traditions of flair, seizing the initiative and entertaining the crowd.

There was a transition from one generation to another too. The old guard was more or less done away with and a new breed brought through in order to prepare them for the 2014 World Cup. So Brazil went from one extreme to the other. Many of the players weren’t ready. For the most part, they were based at home and so lacked international experience. It would take time to make the adjustment.

In the meantime, Brazil looked like a soft touch. They lost some of their aura. Paraguay knocked them out in the quarter­finals of the 2011 Copa America on penalties. Mexico beat them in the final of 2012 Olympic football tournament.

If Menezes had been sacked there and then few would have been surprised. Ironically, his dismissal came a few months later just as Brazil had started to show signs of real progress under his management. Were they shooting themselves in the foot?

One of the reasons put forward for Menezes’ firing in November last year was delicate timing; it was only then that the Brazilian Football Federation’s first choice replacement become available. This, of course, was Scolari. By turning to him Brazil pulled another U­-turn. In the space of two years they had gone from pragmatist to purist and back again.

Of course there was plenty of reassurance to be found in Scolari’s track record in international football. The last coach to win the World Cup with Brazil in 2002, he had also guided Portugal to the final of Euro 2004, a tournament they hosted, which, you might argue, is his minimum objective for 2014 with this particular Seleção.

Scolari didn’t get off to an encouraging start. But then, these were early days. Brazil lost to England at Wembley, then threw away a 2-­0 lead away against Italy in Geneva with whom they drew 2-­2 before being held to a 1-­1 draw by Russia at Stamford Bridge.

Scolari’s first win in his second stint in charge came against Bolivia. A 2-­2 draw with Chile then followed, as did another by the same scoreline against England in which they came back from behind at the Maracanã.

The first sign Brazil might do something at the Confederations Cup came in their final warm-­up game against France, who they beat 3-­0 in Porto Alegre. There was less pessimism after that result. Even so, few expected them to win every game in the Confederations Cup.

Scolari and his players deserve a lot of credit. They handled the pressure surprisingly well and didn’t let what was happening around them in the streets across the country affect their performances.

By playing the same system in every match and more or less the same XI, Brazil seemed to come together as a team. A defined game pattern emerged. Players developed a real understanding with each other. Take for instance the burgeoning centre­back partnership between David Luiz and Thiago Silva. They recorded a trio of clean sheets and were excellent in the final against Spain.

Those players who were starters derived confidence from knowing that they had the coach’s full trust and it showed on the pitch. For example, after not scoring against Mexico and Japan, Fred came in for some flak from the local press. Taking him to one side, Scolari told the striker not to worry about it and that, unless he was injured, he’d play the full 90 minutes against Italy. With that peace of mind, Fred went out and scored five goals in his next three matches. It was excellent man-­management from Scolari.

Deciding how much should be read into this Confederations Cup is hard. True, it’s the least meaningful of the major international competitions but, with the exception of Tahiti, the standard of the teams involved was high. Each of those who participated in it wanted to be there and, as a result, took it seriously.

Winning it of course doesn’t necessarily mean Brazil will lift the World Cup for a sixth time next summer. As they know from past experience, the Confederations Cup is something of a poison chalice. Its winner has never triumphed in the World Cup the following year. Spain, one anticipates, will still be the favourites even after Sunday’s defeat, which was their heaviest since they lost to Wales in 1985.

While it should neither be held up as an excuse or be used to take anything away from the impressiveness of Brazil, La Roja were clearly tired. Their semi­final against Italy had gone to extra­ time and then penalties in high temperatures. They had a day less to prepare for the final and were traveling from further away. Brazil’s semi against Uruguay was in Belo Horizonte, an hour’s flight from Rio. Spain’s was in Fortaleza, four hours away. These small details do make a difference.

Scolari has admitted that Brazil are far from the finished article. “We are still not a team that is complete,” he said. “We know that we have a good group but we still have to prove a lot.”

It will be interesting to see whether winning the Confederations Cup makes life easier or harder for Brazil.

On the one hand, they might look forward to the World Cup more and view it with less trepidation. Playing at the Maracanã is daunting for opponents—Brazil haven’t lost there since 1998—but it will also hold less fear for the home nation now that a demanding crowd has been satisfied. The ghosts of 1950 were, to an extent, laid to rest. Brazil beat Uruguay in the semi and didn’t choke in a final. The X Factor the home support could provide was abundantly clear on Sunday. On the other hand, expectations now risk being sky high. Everyone could get carried away and forget that this team is imperfect.

Today, though, Brazil fans should take no shame in savouring the moment. There’s cause for optimism. “Now I am able to dream that we have an idea, that we have a path ahead of us,” Scolari said, “and that we have a good team to play in the World Cup next year as equals with other strong contenders.” That is the real success of this Confederations Cup campaign.

Comments (8)

  1. After a couple of years of uncertainty and a revolving door of national team call-ups it seems that Brazil finally has an identity.

    I also agree that even though Brazil had a great showing at this competition they still aren’t among the top favourites to win the World Cup.

    • They aren’t? Spain, Germany and Brasil, are those not the three main favourites for the World Cup next year?

      • I’d argue Netherlands being in the top three. With Argentina, Italy, France being on the same tier or even higher than Brazil.

        The only reason why I’m not too high on Brazil is that I question their consistency. If to the lead up to the World Cup they continue to play how they have played at the Confed Cup than I’d move them up as favourites.

        I guess you can argue that Argentina and France haven’t been that consistent either so that is why I’d put them on the same tier. There is no doubt they all have a chance to win the World Cup.

        • If we’re talking about winning the World Cup, until a European team proves that they can win outside of Europe (or a place in the same time zone, like South Africa) I’m sticking to the usual pick of Brazil. *shrug* Worked in 1994 and 2010, and they didn’t have home field then.

          Argentina is my dark horse, but Messi’s health seems like it’s starting to be more of a question mark.

  2. I would say if this tournament has showed us anything, it’s the home advantage can dramatically tip the scales. They’ll have to be better then they were in the confederations cup to win the big prize, but this showing suggested to me that it is actually possible for them to do it.

    So if their players progress well over the next year in Europe, then I believe they can pull it off. Maybe not as the favorites coming in, but they’ll be right there at the top of the pack.

  3. Hi, my name is James Horncastle.

    I always hope, wish and think that germany will win every tournament they enter because germany is wunderbar.

    I dislike any team that plays attractive football outside of german teams because it makes me jealous.

    I don’t think Brazil or Spain will win anything because germany is the best.

    Despite Brazil dominating this tournament along with the best team in history 3-0 and despite Spain being the best team in history…both teams need to self reflect and pray that they do well in next year’s world cup.

    On the other hand, my german team who has won fck all on the world stage doesn’t have a thing to worry about because we have mario gomez up front and his finishing is like 99 on Fifa 13 so yeah.

    My name is James Horncastle, and I dunno what I’m talking about because my german bias blinds me.

  4. Make no illusions about it! Germany, Netherlands, Argentina, Portugal, Italy, France, and Uruguay are more convincing than either Spain or Brazil. Bear in mind, as well, the Confederations Cup is less demanding than the World Cup, and teams like Spain or Brazil may not even reach the semi-finals in 2014! After this giveaway of the Confederations Cup by a dismal Spain squad, no one in their right mind will expect Spain to clinch the World Cup 2014! Germany, Argentina, or Netherlands are better favorites to win the World Cup!

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