Tactics and Referees - Brazil Get To The Final - Confederations Cup Diary
It wasn't quite as clear-cut as so many expected but Brazil beat Uruguay to get through to the Confederations Cup Final.
And while they didn't think so when he penalised David Luiz after just 14 minutes, Chilean referee Enrique Osses' decision to clamp down on WWF-style defending at dead ball situations played a big part in settling the game in Brazil's favour.
When Brazil beat Uruguay in the World Cup semi-final back in 1970 they gifted their opponents a goal of a start. It looked like Luiz Felipe Scolari's 2013 vintage were intent on doing likewise when David Luiz appeared to have been watching too much of the British Lions when he hauled Diego Lugano to the ground when they went for a Forlan corner kick.
It was the sort of challenge which happens week after week in football, yet goes unpunished so, despite the howls from the crowd and the protests from the players, the ref was dead right to point to the penalty spot and to show the yellow card to David Luiz. But remarkably Brazil escaped unscathed when goalkeeper Julio Cesar dived to turn Diego Forlan's shot round the post.
With the penalty coming so early in the game, the referee had drawn a line in the sand regarding the penalty box wrestling matches we have become accustomed to and the players seemed to get the message. Significantly, there was little physical contact at subsequent corner kicks. If only more refs had the courage to step in early and put a stop to this nonsense.
Brazil were very poor in the first half. If only Forlan had netted from the penalty it might have sparked them into getting their act together sooner. But just as they had done against Italy last weekend, they made the breakthrough just when it looked like we would have to endure a goalless first half. Neymar got between Godin and Maxi Pereira as he took a pass from Paulinho, his shot was blocked by keeper Muslera but the ball fell kindly for Fred who bundled it home from no more than six yards.
Dante's goal just before half-time in the Brazil v Italy game was the trigger for a pulsating second half so we hoped for a repeat performance in Belo Horizonte and, just two minutes after the restart, Uruguay's Edinson Cavani cashed in on some sloppy defending to fire in the equaliser. Game on!
Cavani has been anonymous throughout the Confederations Cup and, prior to his goal, his contribution against Brazil was confined to doubling back to shore up the midfield. Clearly he'd had a work ethic transplant in the build-up to the semi-final...or maybe his agent was on the phone to tell him that those inclined to spend big to sign him during the summer were beginning to go cool on the deal.
The introduction of local favourite Bernard for the disappointing Hulk lifted the crowd and the pace of the game suddenly picked up. Uruguay almost went ahead when Suarez got in a header but Julio Cesar touched it over the top, while at the other end Bernard set up Fred for a volley but his effort flew over the crossbar. And a Marcelo volley after a Neymar corner had only been half-cleared almost went into orbit.
But Brazil were forcing more and more corner kicks and, with the referee still paying particularly close attention to any underhand goings-on in the box, Paulinho got in a clean jump at the back post to get his head to another Neymar corner and restored the home side's lead with just five minutes left. It was enough to book their passage to the final.
Having warmed up for Brazil v Uruguay by watching my tape of their 1970 World Cup tie, drooling over the talents of Pele, Jairzinho and Rivelino, I've just had another look at last years Euro2012 final between Spain and Italy and I can't help thinking that the Azzuri didn't get a single break that night.
After losing an early goal, injury forced Chiellini out of the game midway through the first half, Spain got a second, Italy lost Cassano at half-time and used up their full quota of subs when Motta replaced Montolivo ten minutes into the second half. No sooner had he entered the fray than Motta hobbled off with a hamstring problem and Chiellini's replacement Balzaretti finished the game as a passenger so it was no surprise when the Spaniards gilded the lily with two more goals.
And Italy's hopes of upsetting the hugely-fancied Spaniards tonight have been dealt a massive blow by a thigh injury to Mario Balotelli which rules the player out of the rest of the tournament. Having previously been pondering over the outcome I'm afraid I can only see one winner now, with the Italians shaking their heads and wondering: If only...
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