The good news first. After a long time, Brazil have won something significant and it has helped soothe millions of angry nerves during ferment. Not so long ago, Brazil were plummeted to 22nd in the Fifa rankings. It was an affront to the reputation of the five-time world champions. The Confederations Cup victory not only helped them return to the top 10 (ninth to be precise), but more importantly, as Neymar has said, it has done a great deal to the team as the players have once again started believing in themselves.
A 3-0 win over the world and Euro champions Spain was an outstanding result. For the last few years, Tiki-Taka had been the flavour of world football. Joga Bonito (Brazils beautiful game) became a thing of the past. The Confederations Cup triumph doesnt indicate a paradigm shift, but Brazil will now go into the World Cup, that they host next year, as strong favourites.
One year, however, is a long time in football and Brazil have to build on their success. Luiz Felipe Scolari is a World Cup-winning coach and he would be the last man to drool over this piece of silverware. Rather, he is expected to take this opportunity to do a reality check.
Brazil improved gradually over the course of the tournament, but they hardly looked a finished article yet. A clean sheet in the final notwithstanding, defence remains the problem area. The forward movements of the two side backs, Dani Alves and Marcelo, left them completely exposed in their defensive-third. Brazil survived because Luiz Gustavo and David Luiz were outstanding as central midfielder and centre-half. Still, Spain had a couple of clear opportunities, missed a penalty and once, Luiz came up with a miraculous save off the line.
The attack, too, didnt look too menacing. Neymar did the bulk of the scoring, playing in a wide position, but Brazil lacked the quality of a Ronaldo or Rivaldo at centre.
Another worrying aspect is that the Brazil forwards did virtually nothing to help the defence. They seemed very reluctant to track back and cover their defenders.
Still, Brazil had a smooth sailing because of two reasons. Neymars form was a huge factor and also the two European giants, Spain and Italy, played with very little intensity. The likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Andrea Pirlo, Mario Balotelli and Riccardo Montolivo went to Brazil completely exhausted after a long and gruelling European season. And in that extreme heat of Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte, they seemed to have very little desire to go full throttle. Balotelli had to return home early due to a thigh injury. Pirlo missed a couple of matches with a strained leg muscle.
As far as Spain were concerned, the conductor of the show, Xavi, looked like almost a dead man walking which meant the team always struggled to get their rhythm right.
Brazil, too, had players who regularly play for top European clubs. But they had just five of them (Marcelo went out of favour at Real Madrid last season and didnt play too many matches). Also, they used the home conditions to their advantage and were backed by the home support. These will help them greatly in the World Cup as well. The tournament will be played in June-July and the Europeans will once again struggle to adjust to the conditions. This is one of the most important reasons why no European team has ever won the World Cup in South America.
So, is it going to be basically a Neymar versus Messi affair in the next World Cup The two will pair up for Barcelona in the forthcoming season. Messi has already secured his place as one of the all-time greats. Neymar is raw and young but the Confederations Cup showed that he is a class act. Not for nothing have Barcelona forked out 57 million euros for this 21-year-old Brazilian.
But Neymars real test will begin now. Life was a lot easier at Santos. At Barcelona, his every move will be dissected. He will become a known quantity by the time the World Cup starts next year. The positive side, however, outweighs the negative thoughts.
At Camp Nou, playing alongside the masters, Neymar will get the right opportunity to grow as a footballer. And his progress will largely determine Brazils chances in the next World Cup.
Brazil had won the 2009 Confederations Cup but stumbled in the quarter-finals in the World Cup next year. In fact, no Confederations Cup winner has ever won the World Cup. Also, in 1950, when Brazil hosted the World Cup for the first time, unfancied Uruguay had upset them in the final. So, history is against the Selecao.
Scolaris team still has a lot of work to do to rewrite it.