Brazil, Spain and the world picture

Brazil’s Neymar and Fred (left) were a handful for the rival defenders in the Confederations Cup.-Pics: AP Brazil’s Neymar and Fred (left) were a handful for the rival defenders in the Confederations Cup.

The World Cup next year promises to be an entertaining affair, with players and national teams finding form ahead of the mega event. By Brian Glanville.

Is the Spanish era over? Are Brazil, their easy conquerors in the final of the Confederations Cup, now among the favourites for the coming World Cup? But could the tournament itself be wrested from them given the scale of sporadic violence of the protest demonstrations which ran side by side with the recent competition. We have long been all too grimly aware of the shocking corruption and greed which are endemic in the Brazilian Football Federation, personified so outrageously by Joao Havelange and his former son-in-law, Ricardo Teixeira.

Recently both men were found guilty of siphoning off vast amounts of money in bribes paid by the now defunct but once powerful ISL company, buying themselves commercial rights from FIFA. Havelange, who against all moral logic remained the President of FIFA for 24 abysmal years, and Teixeira, an impoverished farmer till he married Havelange’s daughter and was rendered rich, have both been forced to resign. The 97-year-old Havelange, as Honorary President of FIFA, which barely amounts to a rap on the knuckles, and Teixiera as head of Brazil’s World Cup organising committee. Yet he, like Havelange, has remained in power for years, despite continual accusation of corruption. So why had it taken so long for these outraged protests to begin?

Brazil’s team, under ’Big Phil’ Scolari, once a World Cup winner, came to the tournament on the back of a long run of dreary draws, a defeat at Wembley by England and a solitary victory against Bolivia. But as the tournament progressed so did their form and they beyond doubt have a major international star in the precocious Neymar, destined now for Barcelona. He scored some glorious goals: from a perfectly struck free-kick, from a dynamic solo which saw him skip between two confronting defenders, plus the golden chances he made unselfishly for others, usually from the left.

As centre forward, Fred, who had scored the goal against England at Wembley, fully justified his place, largely staying in the middle, though very much more than a mere point of reference, it was a notable piece of opportunism which saw him while lying on the ground, still managing to sweep home Brazil’s opening goal against Spain in the final. Lyon in France must surely be regretting that they let him go back to Brazil and to Fluminense of Rio.

It’s sad to see that Brazil, who once boasted the refulgent talents of such as Julinho, Garrincha and Jairzinho on their right flank, still eschew the use of wingers. In attack, much depends on the exuberant forays of Marcelo, who is more than good enough for Brazil even if he wasn’t, for much of last season, good enough for Real Madrid. At centre back David Luiz can still look a hazardous performer with his penchant for adventure, but he has tremendous energy and made a notable save on the goal-line in the final.

And Spain? It is too easy to blame their largely mediocre display in the final on the fact that they had played 120 punishing minutes in the heat, in the semi-final against Italy. Not least because this was a game which they deserved to lose and in all probability would have done had Italy only been able to call on Mario Balotelli, who would surely have accepted one or more of the chances which Italy made and missed.

It would be excessive to say that the virtue has gone out of Spain after their remarkably long unbeaten record, but the failure of both Real Madrid and Barcelona in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League were surely not without significance. And for all the adroit, intelligent, lively midfield plan of Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez, neither the Italians nor the Brazilians were dominated and frustrated by the close passing Spanish football. In the final some of their defending was inept, not least on Fred’s first goal; and how did Neymar stand virtually unmarked when he got the third Brazilian goal? Carelessly missing a penalty, through the usually reliable Sergio Ramos, having Gerard Pique sent-off for a foolishly reckless challenge, it was all too clear that they missed the presence of the bulwark of their central defence, Carlos Puyol. But since psychology can play such a notable part in football, these unimpressive performances, the overwhelming defeat by Brazil must surely strip the Spaniards of their previous advantages of prestige, the feeling that there was no way to counter their intricate approach play.

In the final especially, it was surprising to see that Vicente del Bosque kept Fernando Torres on the field so long, when David Villa was waiting on the bench and when he came on showed far greater dynamism than Torres, coming so close to a goal.

True, Spain came back powerfully and indeed for a long time was unbeatable after the shock and humiliating defeat by the USA in the last Confederations Cup. Still for some what might be called a tournament too far, with no rationale in these days of excessive fixtures for leading teams and players. And what a fiasco was the presence of poor, pitiful, Tahiti, no more than the provider of shooting practice for the teams which scored a fusillade of goals against it. Mere common sense would surely suggest that future winners of an Oceania group deserted by Australia should, as in the equivalent World Cup circumstances, be made to play-off against a team from a stronger group. Thus avoiding another massacre of the innocents.

Argentina’s Lionel Messi (right) and Sergio Aguero form a lethal partnership upfront.-

The Italians profited in their impressive match against Spain through the performance of two late developers. Antonio Candreva, busily effective in midfield, was actually born in Rome but only last year did he find himself with one of the two major Roman clubs; Lazio. This, after years of travelling the peninsula. Much the same experience was that of Emanuele Giaccherini, operating dangerously just behind the main striker.

Cesena signed him as a teenager but didn’t give him a game, yet he would eventually return to them, find himself in Serie A, and move on to Juventus. He seldom scores, but came close to doing it against Spain.

Absent from the Confederations Cup were Germany, with a cohort of lively young stars, and Argentina, who will have no trouble with South American conditions. With Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero, they have the firepower to do well.

And what of Belgium, who now find themselves with outstanding young attackers, all playing in England, in the powerful Romelu Lukaku, back at Chelsea after scoring freely for West Bromwich Albion, and the towering 6 foot 4, Marouane Fellaini, so strong in the air and so clever on the ground?

But can Brazil safely stage the World Cup with belated protest growing?