After weeks of clashes between police and protesters on the streets of Brazil, Sunday offers a confrontation everybody is excited about, a dream Confederations Cup final between Brazil and Spain at 96,000-seat Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
This match (6 p.m., ESPN and Univision) has everything a soccer fan could hope for: Host nation and five-time World Cup champion vs. reigning World Cup champion. Fancy dribbling vs. precision passing. “Jogo Bonito” vs. “Tika Taka.” Neymar, Hulk and Fred vs. Iniesta, Xavi and Fabregas.
Passionate fans in yellow vs. passionate fans in red.
Spain will be going for its fourth major title in recent years after winning the 2008 and 2012 European Cups and the 2010 World Cup. Brazil is looking to reclaim past glory a year away from hosting the 2014 World Cup.
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The Confederations Cup is a quadrennial tournament used as a tune-up for the next World Cup host nation. It is also a barometer for participating national teams to see where they stand with a year to go. Brazil and Spain have already established themselves as two favorites for next summer.
“I think everybody was waiting for this Confederations Cup final to be Spain vs. Brazil,” said Spanish captain Iker Casillas, the brilliant goalkeeper. “I think the two teams that deserve to play the final are actually playing it.”
Spain had a harder time reaching the final, surviving 120 minutes and a 7-6 penalty shootout to get past Italy in Thursday’s semifinal. Brazil beat Uruguay 2-1 on Wednesday to get an extra day of rest.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque refused to use fatigue as a factor in Sunday’s match.
“We will definitely stand up to Brazil in the Maracana,” he told reporters. “The players should feel just as happy as kids playing in the Maracana. They have won a lot, but they want to win in the Maracana.”
Casillas agreed: “It will be a special match for the Brazilians, and also for the Spanish team to play in the Maracana. This is something very enticing and it whets our appetite.”
Brazil has looked phenomenal thus far in this tournament, beating Japan 3-0, Mexico 2-0 and Italy 4-2 — the same Italy that held Spain scoreless. Fred scored three goals in the past two games, Neymar and Jo have two apiece.
Spain looked great in a 10-0 rout of Tahiti, but had some trouble settling into its possession game against Nigeria and Italy.
Both rosters are loaded with world-class talent.
Brazil has Julio Cesar in goal, and a back four of Marcelo, Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Dani Alves. The midfield includes Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho behind Oscar, Neymar, Hulk and Fred.
Casillas will mind the net for Spain, and helping him in back will be Jordi Alba, Alvaro Arbeloa, Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos. The midfield features Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Xavi. Pedro, Cesc Fabregas and David Silva are used on the wings, and Fernando Torres or Roberto Soldado plays forward.
Making the matchup even more exciting is the fact that Brazil and Spain haven’t faced each other since 1999. Back then, Brazil had just lost to France in the 1998 World Cup. Rivaldo, Cafu and Roberto Carlos were on the team. Spain was hardly a world power at that time, having lost in the opening round at that World Cup.
A lot has changed in 14 years. One thing remains the same: Brazil’s passion for its soccer team. And that could be the difference at Maracana on Sunday night.
Donovan called in
Happy to see Landon Donovan called up by U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann for the upcoming Gold Cup. It has been 11 months since he last played for the national team, and his leadership and creativity were missed.
Klinsmann explained his decision: “When Landon came back in the end of March after the long break, he needed time to get back in a rhythm, get back in shape and work on his game again. … He has gotten sharper every game. We believe now is a good time to get him back into the national team and give him the opportunity to prove his point. He knows that the group that played the World Cup qualifiers is ahead of the curve and have a very strong position right now, and he has to rebuild his case. We have all respect for what he has done in the past, but sports are about the present and about the future, and that’s what we are building on.”
The 12-nation Gold Cup tournament runs July 7-28. The winner plays the winner of the 2015 tournament for a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia.
“We don’t want to watch the Confederations Cup on TV anymore; we want to be there,” Klinsmann said. “At the same time, the players that are representing us in this Gold Cup, they clearly know that this a huge opportunity to prove their value and their case to the coaching staff one year prior to the World Cup.”
Sun Life Stadium will host a Gold Cup doubleheader July 12. Honduras plays El Salvador and Haiti plays Trinidad and Tobago. Tickets are on sale at the stadium and through TicketMaster.