Dream final: Host Brazil vs. world champion Spain
RIO DE JANEIRO— The Confederations Cup has the final nearly everyone wanted: A long-awaited matchup between world champion Spain and host Brazil.
The most dominant team in recent years and the most successful team of all time will meet on Sunday at the Maracana Stadium to decide the winner of the eight-nation warm-up tournament for next year’s World Cup.
It will be the first time the traditional football nations meet in more than a decade, and the first competitive match between them since Brazil’s 1-0 win thanks to Socrates’ goal in the first round of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
“It’s the match everyone wanted to happen,” Brazilian striker Neymar said. “The entire world wanted it and everybody will be watching it.”
Brazil hopes a victory will help it regain its status as a global powerhouse after recent struggles, while Spain wants to show that not even the five-time world champions can put a dent in its supremacy.
“Brazil is possibly the best team in the history of football and to face them in this situation is something magnificent,” Spain midfielder Xavi Hernandez said. “It’s a special final, a special night. We want to win it.”
With more than 70,000 Brazilian fans packing the iconic venue, the world and European champions will be put to the test by a reinvigorated Brazil team led by the 21-year-old Neymar and World Cup-winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.
“Spain is a spectacular team but it has weak points just like any other team,” Scolari said Saturday. “I don’t think they are the favorites. We are capable of winning. This is our home and we need to make them respect us.”
The hosts will be trying to win their third-straight title in the World Cup warm-up competition, and fourth overall, while Spain will be looking for its fourth major trophy in five years.
Spain won the 2010 World Cup along with the 2008 and 2012 European Championships. The team is unbeaten in a world record 29 competitive matches over three years since losing its 2010 World Cup opener to Switzerland.
Lifting another trophy on Sunday would be special for the Spaniards.
“We are talking about a match against Brazil, the fathers of football, at the Maracana,” Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque said. “We are happy to be having this opportunity and we hope we are back here in 2014, too.”
Brazil won its fifth World Cup title in 2002, but recently it’s Spain that has been the dominant team in international football, capturing the last two European championships and the 2010 World Cup.
Brazil was eliminated in the quarterfinals in the last two World Cups and hasn’t won a significant title since the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa.
“They are the current world champions, they have to be praised,” Brazil captain Thiago Silva said. “But anything can happen in a final and I’m certain that Brazil will be fully prepared for the matchup.”
Spain hasn’t lost in 26 matches, since a 1-0 loss against England in London in 2011. Brazil struggled after Scolari returned to the national team, winning only one of its first six matches. But it reaches the final on a five-match winning streak and the passionate support of its fans.
“There is no doubt it will be an even match,” Brazil right back Daniel Alves said Saturday. “There is mutual respect between these two national teams.”
Brazil beat Japan, Mexico and Italy in the group stage before edging Uruguay in the semifinals. Spain defeated the Uruguayans in its opener, then routed Tahiti and beat Nigeria before getting past Italy in a penalty shootout in the semifinals.
“It’s the match everybody has been waiting for,” said Brazil assistant coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who led the national team to the 1994 world title. “We all know how good Spain is, but Brazil is going through a sensational moment and is full of confidence.”
Brazil is also more rested.
While the host hasn’t played since Wednesday, Spain endured extra time and the shootout in the semifinal against Italy in the heat of Fortaleza on Thursday. Del Bosque has said Spain will not use fatigue as an excuse, and Scolari also downplayed the issue.
“They were able to rest all of their starters when they played Tahiti, so basically they had to play one game less than we did,” Scolari said.
Both coaches will have all of their top players available for the match at the renovated Maracana.
Four players who will be in Sunday’s final were nominated for the Golden Ball award handed to the best players at the Confederations Cup: Brazil’s Neymar and Paulinho and Spain’s Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos.
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