So Brazil just wrapped up this summer’s major in style. There’s no doubt it was a goal filled tournament of attacking football and colourful crowds, but what can we take away from a competition held in the shadow of the World Cup?
1- Only the Best Athletes Will Survive
The Confed Cup was hotter than a volcano on the Sun and was so humid the players had to swim across the field. The conditions were most apparent in the semi-final between Italy and Spain; the game was played at a frantic European pace initially but it slowed down dramatically in the final 15 minutes and added time. Now were that a Champions League semi-final (a match where you would also see many of those players and has the capability to go to added time) the tempo wouldn’t change that much, if at all, as the game went on.
The resulting final and third place play-off saw both teams exhausted, and although Italy held on and prevailed on penalties, it was clear they were struggling. Only both team’s superior athleticism saw them even stand a chance against their more acclimatised and well-rested opponents.
The fallout of this is that it will skew the World Cup’s matches. Those from a South American, or a hot Asian (no, not Bangkok’s red light district) environment will not be affected as much as those from northern countries. So whereas Argentina vs Germany might be a balanced competition in most people’s minds, the advantage will sit with the Argies.
2 – Japan Have Come A Long Way
Spain began magnificently, Brazil were astounding at times, Italy were surprisingly impressive (aren’t they always?), and Uruguay put up a good fight. But the most impressive football I saw was the Japanese passing game. They struggled in the opening game against an overwhelming Brazil and their expectant crowd, but played some excellent, incisive football in the incredibly unfortunate 4-3 loss to Italy. Their performance was reasonable against Mexico but both teams were out by then so it was of little consequence.
However, despite the skills of Honda, Okazaki, and Kagawa they lacked bite at the vital times. They could pass it around well, and always with forward thinking moves in mind, but often didn’t finish their brilliance. They’ll need a striker to come out of nowhere or some serious shots from the aforementioned players to succeed at the World Cup. But if they do get some teeth, I’d tip then to upset some odds.
3 – Italy Could Not Care Less About Penalties
Although they only came through the tournament with a 50% shoot-out win rate at two counts, their penalties (and Buffon’s goalkeeping) were near perfect. I’ve seen people twice as stressed out trying to open a can of Coke than the Italians that took penalties.
Credit has to go to Spain for their part in the semi-final masterclass of penalty taking, but while La Roja were clinical, the Italians – as they do with everything – took it to another level of classiness.
Just look at every fan’s man-crush or regular crush Andrea Pirlo as he steps up to take the fifth penalty – the one that, if missed, would mean instant loss.
He’s just played 120 intense minutes of football against the number one ranked team and is now asked to take the most nerve-wracking penalty.
If an Englishman was put in this position (assuming we could get to the fifth pen) he would burrow a hole so deep he would appear in the Pacific ocean. Watch, learn, and be intensely jealous:
4 – Neymar, and Brazil, Are Ready
I’m not gonna lie, I had my doubts about Brazil and their poster-boy. For too long I felt that an average team had ridden the reputation of their kit’s past teams and taken too much praise from constantly topping their WC qualification table. I thought that Neymar himself might be overrated and was a cheat. And, although he certainly will be getting intimately acquainted with the turf at the Camp Nou next season, the kid is the real deal – innately gifted with an ability to play astounding football and a worthy winner of player of the tournament.
Brazil themselves showed flair and attacking threat – qualities their past iterations were famous for, but also displayed the mentality of silverware lifters. There were claws and teeth; diving, arguing, fouling, penalty giveaways, and other things that aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. But they showed that, at all costs, they wanted to win, and in the face of tremendous national pressure – they did. If you were a Brazilian fan right now, you’d be ready for the 2014 World Cup to start on friday.
5 – Spain Will Always Baffle
At Euro 2012 Spain played a 4-6-0 formation, capitalising on the midfield domination of Xabi Alonso and Senior Biscuits in lieu of having a forward. It caused a lot of head scratching around the world and drew criticism from idiots about ‘boring football’. But they won the tournament so it worked.
Whether the criticism hit home or because Alonso was injured for the tournament, they dropped the two holding mids system and brought in a forward. Now I won’t pretend to understand the reasoning behind this tactical shift, but Fernando Torres? Really? And he gets the golden boot! What a joke for four goals against semi-professional Tahiti and one against Nigeria. Roberto Soldado must wonder what he has to do short of moving to Chelsea.
But nevermind that, the biggest confusion came in the final. Brazil were amped up, surfing along a wave of fanatical support, and Spain were tired. They were struggling and their game doesn’t lend itself to chasing goals at the best of times, but they pressed on and got a penalty.
Now can anyone out there explain to me why in the name of Raul, in a team containing two frequent bronze and silver medalists in the freaking Ballon d’Or, Man City’s new winger, a Barcelona forward, and even a left back that already has two goals in this competition, on a penalty you must score to have any hope of winning the game – you pick the man who collects red cards like they’re going out of fashion, Sergio Ramos to take it. Of course he misses it! Are you kidding me Spain? Christ…