Brazil, Spain look to serve up a final feast
FIFA president Sepp Blatter has already declared this year's Confederations Cup, hors d'oeuvre for the World Cup in 12 months time, the best ever.
Yet he and 200 million Brazilians, 47 million Spaniards and countless fans across the globe hope the best is yet to come as holders Brazil and world champions Spain prepare to take the final curtain Sunday in Rio.
Brazil starlet Neymar says he can already taste the atmosphere of an historic occasion as the Selecao aim for a third straight crown, and a fourth overall.
A Spanish victory, by contrast, would make them the first side to win four straight international tournaments after sandwiching their 2010 World Cup success with European glory in 2008 and 2012.
With Spain the dominant power of recent years and Brazil the most successful nation in the game's history, it is small wonder their stars cannot wait to joust at the renovated Maracana stadium, scene of Brazil's legendary 1970 World Cup win.
"These teams have great tradition and history. Spain have their stars - and so do Brazil," Neymar said Friday as he contemplated the final the purists craved.
Neymar and company faced initial criticism from Pele, who claimed the current Brazil team is "not good enough" to land the game's top prizes.
But by beating Japan, Mexico and Italy in the group phase and then showing they can scrap by edging Uruguay in a tough semi, Brazil are rising again after falling to a modest 19th in the FIFA rankings ahead of the event.
Just as Vicente del Bosque has taken Spain to even greater heights after succeeding Euro 2008 winner Luis Aragones, so Brazil's ongoing renaissance is down to a fellow moustachioed sexagenarian in Luiz Felipe Scolari, architect of a World Cup success in 2002.
Scolari insists this World Cup dress rehearsal is merely an opportunity to see how well he can blend the aces in his pack over the coming year.
Yet after seeing his side respond to his cracking of the whip, Brazil's 'eminence grise' has slightly revised that opinion with another Confederations trophy almost in reach, knowing that beating the world champions would put a large feather in his cap
"(Spain) have won everything over the past five or six years. But we will play our game," said Scolari, who rejects any idea the Spaniards will be at a disadvantage having come through extra-time and penalties to see off Italy in a semi-final played a day later than Brazil's.
"They have basically played a match less, swapping the side for their group match against Tahiti.
"We will respect them but we will show our own qualities."
The last time Brazil won a trophy on home soil was the Confederations tournament in 1989.
Winning Sunday would not see the popular anger at the cost of staging the event and the World Cup evaporate.
But it would dissipate the desire for further mass protests as the giant country responds to the massive challenge of readying for its first World Cup since 1950.
Home skipper Thiago Silva says the final outcome is too close to call.
"They are a very technical team oozing quality. They are world champions and very consistent. The final will come down to small details."
Spain's Jesus Navas, whose winning kick dragged the Spanish past Italy in their spotkick shootout in Fortaleza, refuses to make either team favourite.
"It was very tough to see off the Italians, so imagine how difficult it is going to be to defeat Brazil on their own turf," Navas said.
Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas, a pillar of the side after shrugging off being dropped at Real Madrid in mid-season, said he is thrilled two such exciting sides have made it.
"Everybody expected a Brazil versus Spain final and both deserve to be there. To play Brazil in their most iconic stadium will be fantastic," said Casillas, whose team should have Roberto Soldado and Cesc Fabregas available after misisng the Italy game while Brazil are set to be unchanged.
Del Bosque says Spain will not be cowed by a partisan crowd or by playing a side whose last competitive home loss was 38 years ago.
"We will seek to impose our kind of game in the Maracana. We are tired for sure but we are dreaming of this final against Brazil.
"We start even and Sunday is another day."
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