The scale, as well as the manner of Brazil’s victory in the Confederations Cup final made it very easy to get carried away at the time, and start proclaiming the ‘death of tiki-taka’ or the brilliance of Scolari’s tactics. But whilst the performances of both sides were striking for different reasons, I think it’d be stupid to start drawing serious conclusions about next summer from last night. Brazil still have plenty of problems to solve before they can begin to consider themselves favourites. And while Barcelona may have officially lost their status to Bayern Munich as the world’s leading club side, I don’t see a reason why the Spanish can’t/won’t continue to dominate at international level, provided they learn some simple lessons. Ultimately, Spain were outplayed, made bad choices before and during the match, and they just didn’t get the breaks –none of which should indicate that their methods aren’t still the most effective in world football.
Coach Vicente Del Bosque was philosophical in defeat, “They chased us all over the pitch, they weren’t afraid to be physical and get stuck in and it broke our rhythm – It’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation”. His side hadn’t conceded a goal in knock out football for four years and so it was interesting to see how they’d cope with going down so quickly. What became clear quickly was that, as with Barcelona, the dedication and reliance upon their specific possession-based methodology, leaves them stumped when they come up against a side who will press them as hard and effectively as Brazil did.
There were personnel decisions to be questioned as well as tactical however. It might have been harsh to drop Alvaro Arbeloa (given he’d done nothing wrong in his first four games) but he was clueless in his handling of Neymar in the first half and arguably was lucky not to be sent off for a tactical foul on the halfway line. Also, annoyingly – given how long we’ve been waiting for him to start playing for Spain in big matches – Juan Mata’s selection was a poor one in hindsight. The Chelsea player not having the pace to hold back Dani Alves on the right flank, was isolated out wide and squashed between Gustavo and Paulinho any time he moved centrally. To be fair, the one time he did pick up the ball in space in the Brazilian third, he laid on Pedro perfectly (who was unlucky not to score) but otherwise he was invisible. In hindsight the more physical/combative Javi Martinez would’ve possibly been a better selection in the absence of Alonso.
Yesterday should be no real concern for Spain. They still have the best pool of talent in the world by a mile and their squad is still clearly ambitious. Brazil aren’t a better side than them and it was a convergence of many factors that ultimately gave the home team the win. The challenge for Spain is to study these factors and work out how to resolve them before the World Cup. If they do this then they’ll certainly be favourites to retain the trophy, becoming the first side to do so since Brazil in 1962.
As for Brazil, they should of course feel optimistic in the knowledge that if they can perform with the same intensity as last night, then they can absolutely beat any side in the world. However, against a side in better shape and form than the Spanish, there are enough obvious defects in their system that can be punished by the top sides. With both full backs so attack minded, there will always be space in behind for the opposition to attack. Thiago Silva and David Luiz both read the game brilliantly but it is a big risk to rely on them both being as imperious as they were these last two weeks.
Another risk exists in fielding such a consistently average individualistic talent like Hulk on the right wing. It leaves them overly reliant on Neymar to be consistently brilliant going forward, especially with Oscar playing a self-limiting role in midfield alongside two more naturally defensive players. Centre forward Fred represents another potential problem. He’s so static with his positioning that if he isn’t in the goal-scoring form he is at the moment next summer, what he brings to the XI could be reasonably called into question.
Other issues of course exist and with no competitive matches now for a year, will possibly remain. The incessant fouling and diving of certain players needs addressing to start with. Scolari hasn’t at all managed so far to get the best out of Alves or Oscar and with so much uncertainty regarding how these protests will end, there is still a lot of work for Brazil to do over the next 11 months. At least now after beating Spain the country can feasibly imagine World Cup glory next year – that’s where the real victory is for Scolari and his team this summer, in giving Brazil genuine cause for hope.