Brazil - The Show Must Go On!
Speculation that the Brazilian government is ready to pull the plug on the Confederations Cup due to civil unrest throughout the country is nothing more than scaremongering. If the country is struggling to finance the Confederations Cup, the World Cup, the Olympics and the forthcoming papal visit, they will be ripped potless when FIFA hit them with the inevitable law suit... and the fitba-crazy people certainly won't take too kindly to any suggestion that they be denied next year's main event. There is a familiar tone to this latest bout of shit-stirring. The Tottenham riots of 2011 had self-important journos predicting carnage when the Olympics arrived in London a year later and wasn't there the same sort of hype surrounding football hooliganism and race issues prior to Euro2012 in Poland and Ukraine? Whilst not trying to devalue any grievances the Brazilian people might have, we must all recognise that the press, here and overseas, never have been guilty of making molehills out of mountains. Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff went on nationwide television last night and promised to address many of the people's concerns. Like all politicians, she will be judged by her actions rather than her words, the protests will continue and so too will the Confederations Cup. Tonight's Brazil v Italy clash in Salvador is the game everyone has been looking forward to since the draw was made. Over the past few days I've dug out the old videos from their World Cup games from 1970 and 1982 - I gave the 1994 Final a big body-swerve! - and enjoyed a wee trip down memory lane. Pele, Gerson, Rivellino, Jairzinho, Tostao, Carlos Alberto, Socrates, Zico, Falcao, Riva, Rivera, Facchetti, Boninsegna, Mazzola, Rossi, Tardelli, Conti, Graziani. The names just rattle off the tongue and I wonder if we'll be looking back on the likes of Neymar, Fred, Hulk, Balotelli, Pirlo and De Rossi with the same fondness thirty or forty years from now. Barcelona's latest big money buy Neymar certainly caught the eye against Japan and Mexico. He went into the Confederations Cup burdened by something of a goal drought but two stunning volleys brought that to a spectacular end and a sense of anticipation is evident whenever he is on the ball, as if he is expected to score whenever he is in the vicinity of the penalty box. If he and Messi can get it on at the Nou Camp, Barca will have elevated their wow! factor to yet another level. I've still to be convinced by both Hulk and Fred. Neither has been too impressive in this competition and I wonder if Luiz Felipe Scolari might be tempted to stick Jo on right from the start. A goal in each of his appearances from the subs' bench has surely earned him the right to expect more game time. Then again, if the Italians set out to close the game down, Jo could be Brazil's trump card with fresh legs late in the match. But I don't think the current Italy team is capable of putting up the shutters. Cesare Prandelli is a much more positive coach, showing great faith in the loose cannon that is Mario Balotelli. The last manager to back Balotelli to the hilt was Roberto Mancini and it didn't do too much for his job security. By all accounts, the player is much happier now and it has been reflected in his performances in Brazil. Even when they were trailing 2-0 to Japan, there were no tantrums, no stupid fouls, no confrontations with the referee, just a solid adherence to the coach's gameplan which has been rewarded with Italy's guaranteed place in the semi-finals. Prandelli's willingness to change when it is clear his strategy is not working - as it obviously wasn't against Japan - showed him to be a top quality coach. With Balotelli on his own up front against the Japs, the big fella was isolated, he saw little of the ball and Italy were soon 2-0 in arrears. Prandelli didn't hesitate. Giovinco on for Aquilani after just half-an-hour, Balotelli began to get involved in the play and the game turned before Japan got to settle on their superiority. There is every likelihood the Italians will be forced to think on their feet tonight. Japan asked serious questions of Barzagli and Chiellini in midweek, caused them all sorts of problems and Gianluca Buffon didn't look too clever either. Neymar has been quick out of the traps with early goals in Brazil's two previous games and, if he can do it again tonight, we could be treated to quite a spectacle. I'm going for a 2-1 win for Brazil, with lots of near things at both ends of the pitch. Mexico meet Japan in Belo Horizonte with nothing more than pride at stake. Both have had their moments. Mexico were good in patches against both Italy and Brazil, while Japan were very unlucky to lose to the Italians so it is hard to split them but I fancy Mexico to edge it, possibly also by 2-1.
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