Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Fans' prayers answered with Spain vs. Brazil
Confederations Cup final a dream match
It is the matchup everyone wanted.
The Confederations Cup hosts and patrons of the next World Cup against the greatest international side of this generation, perhaps all time.
Brazil, who have managed to find some long-elusive form at this two-week competition based in four coastal cities and two others in the interior, come into Sunday's final seeking a third consecutive Confederations Cup crown and fourth overall.
Spain, meanwhile, are the reigning world and European champions and are looking to become just the second nation (France the other) to complete a grand slam of the sport's four most prestigious international titles -- a repertoire that includes the two championships they already hold and the Olympic gold medal, which they won in 1992.
Nevertheless, Spain manager Vicente del Bosque is adamant Brazil should be tipped to win Sunday's Confederations Cup final in Rio de Janeiro.
"Brazil are the favourites," del Bosque told reporters at his Friday press conference. "They have five World Cups, three Confederations Cups. We're going to be facing them at the Maracana and we're excited to do so."
In three group-stage matches and a semifinal, Brazil beat high-profile opponents Japan, Mexico, Italy and Uruguay by a combined score of 11-3 and have yet to trail at this competition. Since seeing off historical nemesis France 3-0 in a friendly match earlier this month they have moved from strength to strength, surging in confidence and getting game-changing performances from many of their best players.
Foremost among them has been Neymar, the 21-year-old Santos product who agreed a Ç¨57 million transfer from the Paulista side to Spanish champions Barcelona late last month.
With three goals and two assists in his first Confederations Cup, Neymar could well win the tournament's Golden Ball as best player with one more standout showing in the final -- a match in which he will be going up against several of his future Barcelona teammates.
"They play well and beautifully," he told Mundo Deportivo, regarding a Catalan contingent that includes Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Pedro and Cesc Fabregas. "I wish luck to them."
Not that they need it.
Never before has Europe produced a side so internationally dominant as this Spain outfit -- a team that has bookended a World Cup triumph with a pair of European Championships while playing a close-passing, often stifling brand of football.
A win on Sunday would only serve the dual purpose of cementing their legacy and confirming their installation as World Cup favourites for 2014, and no matter what del Bosque says they should be fancied, however slightly, to lift the Confederations Cup at the Maracana.
In fact, they can expect their run of dominance to go on for as long as Xavi and Iniesta are fit and functioning at the high standards they have set for themselves. So rarely do playmakers of such quality overlap in a single generation, and that they have done so with each of Spain and Barcelona has meant both their country and club have been the beneficiaries of such an extraordinary phenomenon.
Nevertheless, Brazil captain Thiago Silva refused to single out individuals in his pre-match remarks.
Calling Spain a team of "great quality," the Paris Saint-Germain defender conceded Sunday's opponents had "a squad made up of reserves that are of the same level as the starters."
He might have mentioned his own group of players includes the sort of individualistic talent that can alter the course of a match in an instant.
Flair and flamboyance against order and organization. Moments of magic against perfectly strung-together plays.
Two weeks ago this was the encounter we had all hoped would come. And now it's here. It's hard to imagine even the World Cup delivering a more compelling spectacle.
Projected Brazil XI: J.Cesar; D.Alves, T.Silva, D.Luiz, Marcelo; L.Gustavo, Paulinho; Hulk, Oscar, Neymar; Fred.
Projected Spain XI: Casillas; Arbeloa, Pique, S.Ramos, J.Alba; Xavi, Busquets, J.Martinez; Pedro, Fabregas, Iniesta.
email@example.com Twitter @JerradPeters
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2013 0
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