It’s a final that every neutral was hopeful of and one that every Brazilian was most apprehensive about. Brazil and Spain have not faced each other in over 27 years, their last bout, in the 1986 World Cup, ended in a 1-0 victory for the Selecao. Brazil, who has not lost a home fixture since 1975, will look to extend that record tomorrow against a Spanish side, unbeaten in 29 competitive games, determined to complete the set (World Cup, UEFA Euro, Confederations Cup).
Scolari is convinced that he has found his starting XI for next years showcase. There has been just one change in four matches Paulinho due to injury in an inconsequential group game against Italy. Scolari knows that if Brazil is to challenge they will need to do two things: stifle Jordi Alba, who has been sensational all tournament, and assert themselves in midfield. Fundamental to this is a more defensively committed right-sided player in the front three. Hulk, who has been woeful all campaign, will not do. Never a fan favourite, the chorus for a more dedicated player has grown even louder after Bernard’s introduction in the semi-final invigorated the crowd. Hulk deserves to be benched, though not for Bernard, but rather for Lucas Moura. In PSG’s Champions League quarter final against Barcelona, Moura not only tracked the runs of Alba brilliantly and forced the defender wide but also contributed in attack and was their most dangerous player in the first half of the second leg.
What Brazil does not have however, is a central midfielder capable of dictating play; that could well prove to be their downfall. They need someone who can play the field, spread the ball out wide, and open up the pitch. Something the Italians did remarkably well in the first half of the semi final. The faithful may point to Oscar, who is a wonderfully talented and technical footballer, of whom this writer is a confessed fan. But Oscar’s strength lies in his positional sense, his acute runs that generate space for teammates, and surprisingly his defensive abilities (most tackles registered for any Brazilian player this tournament). Unlike Pirlo or Xavi, he is not yet capable of running the show.