Since 2008, Spain has dominated international soccer, winning the European Championship that year and in 2012, and the World Cup in 2010. Even in 2006, Spain was as good as any side at the World Cup, but the coach’s tactics let the team down in a knock-out match against France.
Before 2006, Brazil was soccer’s dominant nation. It won the World Cup in 1994 and 2002 and finished second in 1998. Moreover, Brazil has traditionally been the world’s best national side. No country has won as many World Cups (five).
Finally, Brazil’s 1970 World Cup winning team has generally been considered the best international team in soccer history. But given Spain’s back-to-back-to back success, many soccer devotees think that one or more of these successful Spanish sides now can claim to be the best ever.
For years, therefore, soccer fans have craved a Spain-Brazil match in a serious tournament. We were denied that pleasure in the 2009 Confederations Cup because the U.S., of all teams, somehow knocked off Spain in the semifinal. Brazil then defeated the U.S. to win the competition.
At the 2010 World Cup, Brazil stumbled against an inferior Holland team. The Dutch went on to lose to Spain in the final.
This year, our wait is over. Spain and Brazil will finally square off for a trophy at the Confederations Cup.
Neither team made it to the final easily. Brazil, playing at home, needed a goal in the last few minutes of its semifinal to squeeze past reigning South American champions Uruguay, 2-1. Spain had an even tougher time, drawing Italy 0-0 (runners-up to Spain at Euro-2012) over two hours before finally prevailing on penalty kicks.
In that shoot-out, the two best goalkeepers of the past decade (Spain’s Casillas and Italy’s Buffon) failed to save a single kick out of 14 taken. The stalemate finally ended when an Italian defender skied his kick over the bar.
What should we expect in tomorrow’s final? Spain has looked slightly the better side so far. That’s natural because Spain is a settled side – at least 10 members of its typical starting 11 have been playing together for a while.
By contrast, Brazil has a new coach (the one who guided Brazil to the 2002 world title) who has only just identified what he believes is his best 11. And not every member of this group has fully justified the coach’s faith (e.g. Hulk). In Neymar, however, Brazil has the outstanding player in the tournament so far.
Furthermore, Brazil is playing at home and with an extra day of rest. And Spain, who will be playing with just two days rest, had to run around for an extra half hour in severe heat to beat Italy.
Thus, the final looks on paper like an even contest.
The one thing we can reasonably expect is a fairly open match. Spain is too good to defer to Brazil by defending first. Brazil, presumably, is too proud to defer in front of its fans.
Moreover, although the Confederations Cup isn’t nothing, it’s not the World Cup. There is no compelling reason for either team to be particularly cautious.
If I’m right about this, tomorrow’s match will be worth the wait.
UPDATE: Brazil won 3-0. My discussion of the match is here.