The Brazilian crowd that witnessed an enthralling 122 minutes of scoreless soccer Thursday seemed disappointed in its end result. The 7-6 penalty kick shootout between Spain and Italy went in favor of La Roja, who escaped an upsetting defeat. The Italian club represented an easier opponent for the Seleção in the Confederation Cup final on Sunday, having already lost to Brazil 2-4 in the Group Stages. With the win, Spain advances as the favorites to the final against Brazil — the home team.
Spain showed its weaknesses on Thursday against Italy, a team that had allowed eight goals in three previous Cup matches. Spain went regulation plus two overtimes without scoring one goal but luckily Iker Casillas did his part in not allowing a single goal either — leaving the two sides to penalty kick’s that eventually landed Spain the final berth. Make no mistake, boss Vicente del Bosque was clearly nervous over Spain’s chances, and that will have an affect on Sunday if Brazil is able to score early.
Xavi and Andrés Iniesta, too, were both invested in advancing their country to the final — even though the competition has little world renown. Spain cruised their way through the group stages, but their three victories before Italy were against Nigeria, Tahiti and Uruguay. Their 10-0 record setting romping of Tahiti has tainted their statistics a bit in this competition — their 14-goal differential is only as impressive as their penalty kick shootout victory against Italy (i.e., not very).
Meanwhile, Brazil out of Group A has given up just two goals through the group stages against far more formidable squads. They made Japan and Mexico look foolish in the first two matches. And against Italy, they gave enough reason to give Spain a scare — Brazil scored four goals on the same defense that Spain couldn’t manage one on. Brazil beat Uruguay 2-1 Wednesday to advance to the final, and will be playing with a lot on the line.
With the World Cup just a year out, Brazil wants to be the one heading into the world’s biggest tournament as Confederation Cup champions. Luiz Felipe Scolari, Brazil’s manager, hasn’t led the country to a World Cup since 2002 and has dropped the country to its lowest FIFA ranking ever to #22 in the world. A victory would reinsert them as a worthy selection to make a run at the World Cup next year, which will be held in Brazil.
Spain knows what’s on the line for Brazil. And that alone will probably unleash the talents of some of the world’s best players and give Spain the title. They’re the best team in the world right now, and one poor showing against Italy won’t detract from that. They’re a team that rises to the challenge; a team that plays better when more is at stake, a team that has the best player in the tournament in Fernando Torres, so you can expect them to win.
The Confederation Cup is no World Cup, but the two countries pitted in its final couldn’t have been hand selected better for this tournaments success. Brazil’s exciting 1-2 punch of Neymar and Fred could throw Spain’s normal ball-dominant style of play off early; an early concession would be rare for Spain but it shouldn’t disturb them completely. Spain has had a few players out of position and they haven’t looked completely comfortable over the past few matches. If those problems are fixed, Spain could easily produce a shutout.
A tournament that wasn’t expected to draw much fanfare has completely done the opposite. Brazil needs this win, and Spain absolutely cannot lose. But something has to give.