Now For The Big One - Confederations Cup Diary

30 June 2013 06:38
It is the final everyone predicted and, if it lives up to expectations, we should be talking about it all the way through to next summer's World Cup.     The best team in the world against everybody's football favourites has us all rubbing our hands in anticipation of something special and, while much-hyped games often struggle to fulfil their promise, I've got a feeling this Confederations Cup will end with a big bang.   There is no reason why it shouldn't.  The strengths of both teams lie in their creative abilities, both are a bit ropey at the back, so I certainly expect to see goals.  An early one for either side, preferably Brazil, will open things up and, with so much talent on show, we could get a classic.   In front of a manic Maracana crowd, Brazil will certainly go for it and, having seen how Italy succeeded in knocking Spain out of their stride for so much of Thursday's semi-final, I don't expect them to sit back and admire their opponents knocking the ball around.  Look out for a few tasty challenges in the early stages, with Xavi and Iniesta being discouraged from dwelling on the ball for too long, and the ref will have to be bold to draw an line in the sand before it develops into a kicking match.   Who would bet against David Luiz getting an early yellow card?  If Spain play without a recognised striker, he will have to think on his feet and I envisage him being lured into the midfield area where he will be inclined to lunge into challenges.  And the Spanish will always be capable of exploiting the space behind him.  If I was manager of Brazil (a scary thought, eh?), Dante would always be in my side, purely as cover for the big Chelsea man going walkabout.   But Brazil won't be preoccupied with stopping Spain.  They've got enough talent in their side to take the game to their opponents and, with Neymar playing with Barcelona next season, it will be an opportunity for him to sample Spanish defending.  For all the praise the Spaniards get for their pass-and-move football, when it comes to stopping the opposition, Pique and Sergio Ramos ain't too fussy about how they do it.  Will one of them see a card before David Luiz?   Neymar has been the star of the competition and is now about to embark on the biggest year of his life.  If he can reproduce his Confederations Cup form at the Nou Camp - why shouldn't he? - he will go into next year's World Cup on a par with the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Xavi and Iniesta and, with the home crowd behind him, he can take the world by storm.   However, television coverage has already highlighted his tendency to throw himself around when on the receiving end of little more than a nudge so he will have to learn to stay on his feet, otherwise referees will be inclined to ignore his amateur dramatics.  And with that reputation, he will find that the genuine dull yin will also be ignored, giving defenders unnecessary encouragement to go in heavy.   His striking partners have bothered me throughout the Confederations Cup.  Returning to my scary thought, I would have dropped Fred before he started to shine with goals against Italy and Uruguay and I would have lost patience with Hulk many moons ago.  I've seen what he can do with both Porto and Zenit St Petersburg both it looks like he only puts in a shift if and when he feels it.  That isn't good enough at any level of football, let alone the top echelons of the international game, so I'm mystified by Luiz Felipe Scolari's persistence with him.   Against opponents who knock the ball around so slickly like Spain, no team can afford to carry passengers so Brazil will need to have all players playing in top gear.  There will be no room for showboating at the Maracana tonight, Hulk will need to work up a sweat and, if he doesn't, he will need to be subbed quickly if the game is not to run away from the hosts.    Picking a winner is no easy task.  Spain are the perfect football team but they've been playing now for several years without any significant break and, having having been pushed all the way by Italy in the heat and humidity of Fortaleza on Thursday night, they will hardly go into this one exuding freshness.  Brazil will be aware of this, they won't let them settle into their short passing routine and might just edge it.   But I won't be racing down to the cream coolies to put my hard-earned on it.  I won't be too surprised, or disappointed, if it takes an extra half-hour or even another penalty kick shoot-out to separate the sides.   LITTLE BOY BLUE                    



World Cup Group G

Belgium 1 0 0 3 3
England 1 0 0 1 3
Tunisa 0 0 1 -1 0
Panama 0 0 1 -3 0
Last updated : 08:44