Brazil win their fourth Confederations Cup in convincing fashion, producing a dominant performance at the Maracana.
Luiz Felipe Scolari made no changes to his starting lineup – he’s only tinkered with his lineup when Paulinho was unfit to play against Italy in Brazil’s final group game. This meant Brazil played in a 4-2-3-1 with Fred leading the line ahead of Oscar, Neymar and Hulk, while Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo played in the double pivot.
Vicente Del Bosque made one change to the side that defeated Italy midweek, introducing Juan Mata into the attacking three alongside Fernando Torres and Pedro Rodriguez. Del Bosque stuck with his midfield three of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets, while Cesc Fabregas, Javi Martinez, David Silva and Roberto Soldado sat on the bench.
Brazil’s constant pressure disrupted Spain’s passing rhythm and their direct play exposed the space behind the Spanish midfield, which led to their superiority throughout the match.
Strikers have been a talking point in Brazil over the past few years, because they have been heavily criticized for not possessing a world-class striker. Fred has been in and out of the Brazilian national team since 2006, but has finally delivered and possibly made a stake for a starting spot in next year’s World Cup, if he stays fit.
Fred may not be the flashiest striker, and is far from being a legitimate world-class player – he is a natural poacher, which blends in with Brazil’s versatile attack. Fred scored five goals in five games, four of which came against arguably the two best European sides in Italy and Spain. But besides goals, Fred offers more to Scolari’s side – his ability to lead the press, link play with the three attackers behind him, and his movement off the ball has seen him flourish under Scolari.
Fred’s ability to hold up the ball and play in advanced runners, and the several defensive headers on Spain set-pieces will be overlooked, because of the two goals he scored, but Fred has displayed why he has all the qualities to lead the line in the future.
A common feat in Brazil’s performances throughout this tournament has been their energetic starts. High pressing, and wing play have been key in the opening minutes of their matches, but we’ve often seen both energy and pressing levels dip throughout the match. Surprisingly, Scolari’s men were able to sustain their energetic pressing, as they did against Italy, which disrupted Spain’s passing rhythm and prevented Del Bosque’s men from settling into the match.
Spain was unable to build attacks from the back, as the Brazilian attackers closed down Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos, while Oscar stayed close to Sergio Busquets. Brazil quickly hounded the ball when they were dispossessed and Spain was forced into several errors, often conceding possession.
It’s key to note that Brazil’s double pivot’s physicality proved to be vital. Gustavo tracked Iniesta, and although the Spanish midfielder produced moments of magic, he had little influence on the match. Xavi also struggled to dictate the tempo of the match against Paulinho, and this forced him to drop deeper into the midfield to receive the ball.
Brazil was brave with their pressing – they didn’t allow Spain to set the tempo of the match and play out of the back – they simply modified the approach Italy took in the semi-finals, the difference was they were ruthless in front of goal.
Spain strayed away from their beloved 4-2-3-1 system and opted to play a 4-3-3 throughout the tournament. With Xabi Alonso unavailable due to injury, Busquets was given the duty to protect the back four alone, like he does for Barcelona. This was an odd move by Del Bosque to stick with this system throughout the tournament – especially when you have arguably the best player in that position in Javi Martinez that can provide physicality and key passes, on the bench.
The system change was positive going forward – Spain looked to be more fluid in their attack, as they created more legitimate goal scoring opportunities. While this was true, the reason why Del Bosque introduced the double pivot upon his arrival as Spanish manager was to not only protect the back four, but also prevent sides from exposing Spain on the counter attack.
Throughout the latter stages of this competition, Nigeria, Italy and Brazil began to penetrate spaces behind the advancing Alba and behind Busquets, and they were keen to play on the break because they found it relatively easy to drag Spain out of position.
This, along with fatigue, could be the main reason why Spain failed to press Italy and Brazil higher up the pitch. Del Bosque possibly noticed the space Nigeria received between the lines, and that Uruguay exposed once Forlan was introduced. Nevertheless, it played into Brazil’s hands, as Luiz Gustavo was able to receive the ball in deep positions because Xavi refused to press the Brazilian midfielder in those areas. Brazil was now able to play from the back – they often played direct balls into Fred, so he could play in the attacking three or to Hulk so that he could isolate Alba.
Del Bosque’s attempt to move away from the double pivot benefitted his side going forward, but against teams that constantly pressed Spain higher up the pitch, it became a defensive liability.
It was no surprise to see Del Bosque look to his bench in the second half, but the fact that his changes had little impact on the match was shocking.
Cesar Azpilicueta replaced Alvaro Arbeloa, and although he didn’t have a poor outing, one could argue that the Chelsea right back could be held responsible for Brazil’s third goal. Jesus Navas replaced the uninspiring Mata, as a direct threat – this pushed Pedro to the left flank and Spain improved going forward, and Navas’ impact resulted in a penalty shot that Ramos missed.
Del Bosque’s final change was to introduce David Villa for Torres. Torres didn’t receive much service, but when he did, the Spanish striker was often outmuscled by David Luiz and Thiago Silva. Torres dropped deep to receive the ball, but struggled to turn on his defender and play in Mata, Pedro or Navas. The best chance Spain received through Torres was when Pedro was played in by Mata, but he was denied a goal due to David Luiz’ heroic block. It was interesting to see Del Bosque keep a player like David Silva on the bench – Silva would have been an ideal replacement for the isolated Torres, to provide Spain with more passing options and he possesses the ability to open gaps in Brazil’s back four.
Del Bosque’s attempt to get Spain back into the match failed, and once Piqué was sent off, his side was forced to defend for the rest of the match.
Brazil outwitted an extremely tired Spanish side with high/energetic pressing, quick direct counter-attacks and ruthless finishing.
Scolari’s men end the tournament unbeaten, and more importantly they look to be heading in the right direction for next year’s World Cup on home soil. Prior to the tournament, many were worried about Brazil’s tactical discipline and the cohesion between the front four, and throughout this tournament Scolari has ironed out those issues. There are still questions as to whether Hulk will be in the starting eleven next year, with the rapid growth of Lucas Moura, but Scolari has completed a job – he found his potential starting 11, molded them into winners, and has turned the Brazilian crowd into believers.
Spain once again fail to win the Confederations Cup, and fatigue, along with Del Bosque’s selections have played a role in their failure. Four major tournaments in five years has taken a toll on this Spanish side, and it showed towards the end of the tournament with their lack of pressure and energy. Del Bosque experimented with a 4-3-3, and has failed to get the best out of a few players in this system. When Spain failed in 2009, Del Bosque was forced to make a few changes to find the right blend of players/system and he’ll need to do so again if he intends on leaving the Spanish post a champion.