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Germany and Argentina look to end respective World Cup droughts in Rio de Janeiro

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Tonight sees the culmination of a month’s worth of hard work, drama and sheer excitement as the 2014 World Cup final takes place in Rio de Janeiro, however host nation Brazil are the notable absentees from their own showpiece event following their 10 minute capitulation against Germany in the 7-1 semi-final defeat. Instead, Brazil’s fiercest rivals Argentina will step into the cauldron of footballing history that is the Maracana and look to end a 28-year wait for World Cup success by overcoming Germany in a repeat of the 1986 final.Maracana-World-Cup-Schedule

Germany too have a World Cup drought of their own with the European giants having not lifted the famous trophy since 1990 despite reaching the 2002 final but coming up short against Brazil in Yokohama. Joachim Lowe’s side have looked irresistibly brilliant at times this tournament, but have also flattered to deceive, particularly in the Group Stage matches against Ghana and the United States.

The semi-final victory against Brazil, whilst a monumental surprise, looked a real turning point for Lowe’s team. Whilst the belief of success had always been there this was a true return to the nature of German teams from days gone by, the more successful teams.

In 2006 and 2010 respectively we have seen Germany try to play with rather more flamboyancy in order to make best use of the current crop of exciting attacking talent that have come through courtesy of the post-millennium restructuring of German football, however this has come at a cost. Gone was the admittedly stereotypical steel and organisation from the German team, mistakes were creeping into performances and players weren’t performing in the important matches.

Lowe has somehow managed to reintroduce these characteristics to the class of 2014 with the attacking flair still evident, there is the perfect balance. The way Germany simply relaxed, remained professional and managed to score seven goals in their semi-final against Brazil proved this and has the European side heading into tonight’s match with fantastic belief.

Argentina on the other hand have had a less than smooth run to the final with the Argentine media absolutely hammering coach Alejandro Sabella for what the perceived to be ‘poor tactics’ in the opening matches whilst others groups criticises the influence Lionel Messi appeared to have not just on his teammates but also his coach.

What cannot be ignored however is how Lionel Messi has dragged his side to the latter stages of the tournament. A lot is made of the mark Diego Maradona left on the 1986 World Cup winning side and many suggest Messi will never be able to have that impact however the Barcelona forward has been outstanding in Brazil.

His last minute winning goal against Iran, his influential second-half performance in the tournament opener against Bosnia and Herzegovina which changed the tide of the match and a orchestrating display against Switzerland in the second round where he provided an inch perfect assist for Angel di Maria’s extra-time winning goal are all moments where Messi has led Argentina from the front.

These are the moments that are remembered for years to come, especially if Messi lifts the trophy in Rio this evening.

There have however been concerns about Messi’s overall fitness heading into tonight’s match with his father being particularly vocal in his concern for his son who he claims is ‘exhausted’. This showed in the semi-final against the Netherlands with the 27-year-old failing to register a touch inside the Dutch penalty area throughout the entire match.

From a tactical perspective this match is so difficult to predict due to the similarities in playing style between the two teams, particularly when not in possession. Both Germany and Argentina love to press an opposing team high up the pitch with Sabella and Lowe both encouraging their forwards to put real pressure on defenders, particularly when a team tries to play out from the back.

In this respect the Dutch played right into Argentina’s hands in the semi-final with the South American’s putting the Dutch defence under pressure early and cutting out the easy build-up pass to one of Nigel de Jong or Georginio Wijnaldum. Even without the epitome of Argentinean energy in Angel di Maria’s absence the team still managed to press effectively.

Germany look to press in a similar manner and tonight’s match may see players having less time on the ball than in previous rounds. This could make for a rather ‘harem scarem’ match with both teams being rushed into making decisions on the ball which makes mistakes more likely or, and we certainly hope this isn’t the case from the view of neutral, we see a rather timid affair with both teams aware of the other’s strengths and on guard against making a mistake.

Argentina will be without Di Maria, which is a big blow, but the return of Sergio Aguero gives Sabella options up front. With Gonzalo Higuain’s shall we say, relaxed playing style, there have been times where Messi has had to kick the team into action. With Messi fatigue issues it wouldn’t be a massive surprise if Aguero is played through the middle as a centre-forward who can bring energy to that area, support Messi and put pressure on Mats Hummels who is still playing through the pain barrier having suffered a knee injury earlier in the tournament.

From a German perspective Toni Kroos has been one of the best players in the tournament. He has played in his naturally unassuming manner and influenced the outcome of every match he has played in. With a move to Real Madrid expected to go through following the World Cup, Kroos has done his worldwide stock no harm this summer and Argentina have to get to grips with him early on. He is almost at an Andrea Pirlo level of being able to dictate matches but rather more crucially he is mobile and can move further up the pitch and orchestrate attacks.

After a heroic performance from Javier Mascherano in the semi-final, with Kroos in full flow you would say the Barcelona midfielder has to put in a similar man marking job on Kroos to limit his effectiveness.

There is little left to do other than await tonight’s match. The World Cup final only comes around once every four years however there will be an iconic image. Be that Philipp Lahm lifting the trophy to signal the German approach to remodelling their footballing structure in 2000 was all worthwhile or Lionel Messi, launching himself into the pantheon of footballing gods alongside Diego Maradona, by lifting the famed trophy in Brazil.

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World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi strike saves Argentina’s blushes

Lionel Messi celebrates his injury time winning goal. (Photograph courtesy of Getty Images.)

Lionel Messi celebrates his injury time winning goal. (Photograph courtesy of Getty Images.)

Written by Chris Winterburn

Argentina survived a scare this evening with Lionel Messi’s 91st minute winning goal the difference between Alejandro Sabella’s side and Iran in a 1-0 victory for the South American giants.

The Iranians were once again well organised defensively as well as posing an efficient threat on the counter-attack and it wouldn’t have been too farfetched to suggest the underdogs deserved a victory, let alone the draw they so nearly earned.

The similarities between Italy’s performance against Costa Rica yesterday afternoon and Argentina’s against Iran were striking. Argentina had very little tempo when in possession of the ball however still squandered a number of chances in the first-half from set pieces with Ezequiel Garay and Federico Fernandez both heading over the bar from close range.

Iran, as they were against Nigeria in the week, were defensively strong. Javad Nekounam performed well as a holding midfielder, often dropping in at centre-half whilst Alireza Haghighi looked confident when dealing with balls delivered into the penalty area.

Alejandro Sabella after staunch criticism for his use of a 5-3-2 formation at the beginning of the opening fixture against Bosnia and Herzegovina selected Gonzalo Higuain from the beginning however the Napoli forward was almost passenger throughout aside from one chance in the first-half, leaving Messi isolated when withdrawing into a deep midfield position to receive the ball.

Argentina in fairness did have the better of the opening 45 minutes with Iran looking to consolidate a strong defensive display. The aforementioned Higuain chance came just before the half hour with the Napoli forward firing straight into Haghighi’s midriff from close range. Iran’s confidence grew from there with the half closing with Carlos Queiroz’s side going close from a corner through central defender Jalal Hosseini.

The half-time break appeared to have refocused Argentina with Pablo Zabaleta, Marcos Rojo and Sergio Aguero all looking to create a chance in the opening five minutes. From this moment however Iran looked to take control.

Argentina in search of an opening goal left far too many gaps in defence and midfield and should have been punished in the 55th minute when Ashkan Dejagah was denied a penalty. Replays showed a mistimed Zabaleta challenge was in actual fact, a foul. Dejagah had Iran’s next big chance ten minutes later when the Fulham midfielder forced an excellent save out of Sergio Romero following a diving header.

Panic set in to the Argentine team with attacks becoming frenzied and first touches slack. Alejandro Sabella looked to respond by introducing Rodrigo Palacio and Ezequiel Lavezzi but both struggled.

Charlton’s Reza Ghoochannejhad had put in a lot in terms of closing the Argentinean defence down however luck deserted the frontman in the final third with Romero pulling off yet another fantastic stop four minutes from time after another counter attack.

Whilst not the most aesthetically pleasing of playing styles it was difficult not to admire the focus and determination of an Iranian side plagued by off the pitch troubles prior to the tournament. A side, who were reportedly told not to swap shirts at the end of matches due to a financial inability to replace them, looked set to secure their second point of the tournament until a largely quiet Lionel Messi weaved his wand of a left foot.

With just three minutes of added time remaining Messi produced the trademark cut inside onto his strong left foot from the right hand side of the penalty area, taking two Iranians out of the game before curling a shot into the top corner in just the manner he has done so many times before.

Initially the crowd in Belo Horizonte, made up mostly by Argentineans, erupted in a wave of audible delight however the full-time whistle was accompanied by a small amount of discontent from supporters who felt Iran deserved better.

The victory spares Argentina’s blushed on an evening when they really didn’t deserve one point, let alone all three however the passage to the knockout stage has been forged by Lionel Messi who looks to be in the goalscoring form to carry his team to the latter stages.

Domino’s Pizza are offering football fans a chance to change goals into prizes this summer courtesy of the brand new, free to download ‘Domigoals’ app.  To stand a chance of receiving great prizes such as:

·        1 goal = £5 off a £15 spend
·        2 goals (brace) = £10 off £20 spend
·        3 goals (hat-trick) = £20 off £30 spend
·        Consolation prize = 25% off £20

Then all you need to do is be ready to tap the app every time a goal is scored during a match and, if you’re one of the first 1000 off the mark each time, you’ll get one of these aforementioned prizes.

Try the app out for yourself, you can download on Android or iOS here: http://www.dominos.co.uk/blog/domigoals-app/

Juan Sebastian Veron talks Lionel Messi and Argentina at the World Cup

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Argentina’s opening victory of their World Cup campaign was not the straightforward result many were expecting from Alejandro Sabella’s side in their home continent. The first-half was a very difficult affair with Sabella’s tactical setup not benefitting Lionel Messi in the slightest, as I discuss here.

This opened up much half-time discussion on just why Messi couldn’t perform at the World Cup, however his second-half display put a kibosh on such talk.

Argentine veteran Juan Sebastian Veron has since spoken to adidas about Lionel Messi and Argentina’s chances in Brazil.

Veron talks to adidas as part of the #allin campaign.

Veron talks to adidas as part of the #allin campaign.

One of the main talking points surrounding Messi’s legacy is his ability to lead his country to glory in a World Cup. People who use Pele and Diego Maradona as measuring sticks suggest that a true mark of greatness is being able to lift the famous trophy and with Argentina disappointing in 2010, it was muted that Messi might not be able to repeat the feat of Maradona.

Veron disagrees, pointing out that the FC Barcelona forward has already achieved more than enough to cement his status as one of, if not the, greatest player ever.

Messi is already one of the best players in history and that will never change.

He holds the key. He doesn’t have to win a World Cup to be regarded as the best ever.

He’s already proven so, and there are many great players who are great players and never won a World Cup. But, it will be incredible to see him win it for Argentina and his team, as well as for his own story.

An encouraging sign for Messi and Argentina is just how well he slotted into Sabella’s 4-2-3-1 system in the second-half. Gonzalo Higuain’s introduction gave him a player to play off and this saw the tempo of Argentina’s attacks increase. It is unlikely Sabella will deviate from this system for the upcoming match against Iran with Messi appearing so confident following his strike against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Juan Sebastian Veron was a key part of the Argentinean footballing setup since 1997. Although he missed the 2006 World Cup in Germany due to difficulties within his club career at the time causing a lengthy dip in form, the man himself says it feels strange not to be involved this time around, “Although I miss playing in a World Cup, for the first time I’m able to see it from a different perspective and really enjoying my time here in Brazil. I’ve been able to watch many great games.”

Argentina were one of the pre-tournament favourites and although the defensive line is lacking in individual quality, a Lionel Messi hitting form at the right time is enough to drive most teams to the latter stages. In the interview Veron suggests that the importance of gaining a victory in the opening group match is invaluable in terms of providing ‘tranquillity’ to a group with the pressure in the remaining two fixtures significantly lowered,

We’ve won our first game which is great, it’s important to start the World Cup winning and it will bring a lot of tranquillity to the next match.

The team also know that a lot more hard work is needed and some improvements are needed.

It’s very important for there to be a balance between our defence and attack and the team needs to stay together as they’re a collective of many components, with many solutions.

I’m confident we’ll do well, but remember, in football anything can happen.

Argentina next take to the field against Iran on Saturday before their final group game against a lacklustre Nigeria side on Wednesday June 25th.

Juan Sebastian Veron was talking as part of the adidas #allin or nothing campaign

Chris Winterburn meets Fernandinho

Earlier this season I had the chance to briefly talk to Fernandinho about a range of topics such as this summer’s World Cup on Brazilian soil, life at new club Manchester City, his brand new Adidas Predator boots and just what travelling supporters can expect from Brazil this summer.

Fernandinho with his Adidas Predator boots just after talking about the World Cup and Manchester City.

Fernandinho with his Adidas Predator boots just after talking about the World Cup and Manchester City.

CW: It is a World Cup year as you know and Brazil are the hosts, just how important and special would it be for you to get into the Brazilian side and go to the World Cup and win it on home soil?

F: After my family it is the next most important thing in my life.

CW: Now onto the new Adidas Predators you are promoting today, they are certainly very colourful but can you remember the first pair of football boots you ever had, what circumstances you got them in and who gave them to you?

F: This boot [Adidas Predator] would be perfect for the Carnival Catwalk in Brazil. I remember the first boots I ever had, I was four years old and my father bought me a pair of boots which I remember were black and yellow.

CW: At Manchester City you are playing in the centre of midfield with Yaya Toure, how much do you think playing with an experienced International will help you improve aspects of your own game and then break into this summer’s World Cup squad?

F: I hope so, playing with top quality players can only help me improve however ultimately it is only me who can put in the work over the season. The results of the club matter in all competitions and I have to impress the coach [Scolari] it is he who has the final decision.

CW: With the World Cup this summer being in your home country Brazil, how excited are you by the country showing the positives they have to offer to a worldwide audience?

Fernandinho in the midst of his photo-shoot to promote the brand new Adidas Predator boots.

Fernandinho in the midst of his photo-shoot to promote the brand new Adidas Predator boots.

F: For Brazil it is exciting that we are going to be able to show the positive sides of the country, the World Cup is not just going to be in one city it will be in lots of different cities so you will be able to experience all of Brazil. The North of Brazil is totally different to the South of Brazil, central Brazil and the East and West, every side of Brazil is completely different. Outsiders have an idea of Brazil being about the Carnival and the beach but you will be able to visit Manaus where there is one of the most beautiful rainforests in the world with many different creatures, but it is completely different if you go to Campinas which if you like fishing is fantastic. There is a different side to Brazil, the nature and the culture will be able to be shown to the rest of the World.

This interview was conducted on behalf of FootballBoots.co.uk

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Chris Winterburn meets Edin Dzeko

February 18, 2014 1 comment

Earlier this season I caught up with a number of Premier League footballers at Adidas’ World Cup launch event in Salford. Here is what Edin Dzeko had to say to me with regards to the World Cup, his boots and the start of Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure as Manchester City boss.

Dzeko just after we spoke pictured with Adidas' 2014 World Cup ball, the Brazuca.

Dzeko, just after we spoke, pictured with Adidas’ 2014 World Cup ball, the Brazuca.

CW: You have been modelling the new Adidas Predator boots today and I noticed that they are very light, does that impact your game at all when you strike the ball or when you’re dribbling?

ED: I think it is definitely better that the boots are lighter and you feel quicker, ha I’m joking, I like the new boot, I am already playing in them for a few months and it is really good. I like this boot as my feet fit in the boot, there is no space inside the boot and that is most important for me.

CW: Manchester City have got a new manager this season, Manuel Pellegrini. What has he brought to the place that is different to last year with Roberto Mancini?

ED: I think a lot of things are different but especially the way we play, the way we want to play. We want to be an aggressive team, an attacking team and well organised. I think we can only improve over the coming games.

CW: Growing up with World Cups being shown on television, what players stood out to you when you watched the tournaments on television when you were young and have you tried to model your own game on any of them?

ED: My favourite player always was Andriy Shevchenko, I definitely watched him not only at the big competitions but also at the clubs where he played. He was my favourite.

CW: Following on from that, at the World Cup every team who travels wants to win the tournament but are there any teams who you really don’t want to face, who you are really wary of?

ED: I think that Spain for me are definitely the best team in the world and I would prefer to avoid them.

CW: As with every World Cup year there is a new ball, have you had chance to see this summer’s edition today?

ED: Yeah, I just saw the ball and it looks good, the colour is also very Brazilian colours.

CW: Does anything about the ball affect the way you strike it? Does the weight of the ball affect the way you approach striking the ball?

ED: Of course you have better balls than others, I think Adidas balls are good as you can hit them properly.

CW: I remember a couple of years ago you were playing for Wolfsburg in the Champions League at Old Trafford and now you are playing regular Champions League football with Manchester City, how much would it mean to you to win that competition?

ED: This is the best club competition in the World and it would be fantastic not just for me but for the club first and this is something amazing but we still have to go into the second stage and then anything else is possible.

CW: This year you appear to be getting more first team football at Manchester City under the new manager, how important is that for you heading into a World Cup year?

ED: First we have to go to the World Cup you know, there are still two games [Qualifying] to come so I don’t think too much about that at the moment, I just think about doing my best in training and the manager is there to make a choice.

This interview was conducted on behalf of FootballBoots.co.uk.

You can follow Chris Winterburn on Twitter @Chriswin4

Brazil vs. Spain a Confederations Cup Final preview

Well this is what it all has come down to, the past two weeks of Confederations Cup football reaches its climax at the Maracana this evening as hosts Brazil have the chance to retain their title in front of their own fans provided they can defeat Vicente del Bosque’s imperious Spanish side with Brazil boss Luiz Felipe Scolari believing victory can restore lost pride,  “I think what would be so important for us… with a victory we would regain a lot of credibility and respect from our own fans in Brazil.” The Brazilians have managed to completely overcome all the pre-tournament pressure put on them by expectant home crowds coupled with poor performances in friendlies against England both home and away, with the performances of Neymar being particularly outstanding right throughout the competition which was set alight by the twenty one year olds wondrous volley into the top corner of the Japanese net.

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari believes a victory over Spain would restore Brazil's pride at home.

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari believes a victory over Spain would restore Brazil’s pride at home.

The Spanish who were the media’s pick as tournament favourites before the competition began have not disappointed with La Roja easing through Group B without every really getting out of second gear defeating all three of Uruguay, Tahiti and Nigeria to set up a semi-final clash with Cesare Prandelli’s Italy in the inferno like heat of Fortaleza. This however was the first time Spain were tested and boy were they tested with the Italians passing the ball at such a quick tempo in their own half that the famed Spanish pressing game was rendered useless and it was only courtesy of Italy being unable to take any of the chances they created that Spain have reached the showpiece final via a penalty shootout.

Luiz Felipe Scolari will have undoubtedly absorbed all that went on in Fortaleza on Thursday evening and have seen how Spain struggled against a team that passed the ball quickly, often taking no more than three touches before moving the ball on within their own half. It gave Italy a vital amount of time in possession of the ball which many teams have only been able to dream of when facing up against the World Champions and with Brazil possessing defenders who are excellent on the ball in the form of Dani Alves, David Luiz and Marcelo we may well see Scolari’s side attempting to try and shut down the Spanish pressing effort in a similar way.

It would be foolish to simply ignore the fact that Spain had a bad day at the office in Fortaleza with Iniesta being the only real positive for La Roja until the introduction of Jesus Navas midway through the second half with the new Manchester City wideman giving Giorgio Chiellini a torrid time down the right hand side. Spain were really disorganised at the back with Jordi Alba putting in a sub-par performance at left back which allowed Christian Maggio and Antonio Candreva to create multiple openings on the right for Italy, del Bosque will be more than aware that Jordi Alba will have to improve ahead of tonight’s final with Dani Alves and Hulk posing far more of a potent threat on the right flank.

One thing that has become apparent about Brazil’s play this tournament is that the Selecao are all too comfortable to look to find Neymar at any given opportunity with much of what has been good about Brazil going forward this tournament coming through the enigmatic Brazilian on the left hand side. This is a worry for me as against a side such as Spain it would be very easy for Brazil to become predictable and Spain would then simply double up the marking on Neymar with Arbeloa and Sergio Ramos shuffling to their right to counter the threat of Neymar which would then see Sergio Busquets just drop into the centre of defence to cover which we have seen him do on numerous occasions with Barcelona. Brazil have to vary their play, they have to use all three points of the attacking midfield trident with Oscar coming through the middle and Hulk on the right, posing a threat to Spain’s defence in three areas is far better than posing a threat in just one.

Tonight’s fixture may well be the first where we see Fred utilised to the maximum of his ability, thus far in the tournament the Fluminense forward has been very much restricted to the central position in attack just ahead of Oscar and hasn’t been given the opportunity to move into goalscoring positions too often despite having netted three times. Tonight we may well see Brazil really look to use Fred to hold up the ball, invite advancing pressure from the Spanish defence which will then create a gap for Fred to feed the ball into, this is very much how Italy tried to utilise Alberto Gilardino in Thursday’s semi-final but their finishing let them down, you can be sure there will be no such problems with Brazil.

Spain in their preparation for this evening’s match will have noticed several weaknesses in Brazil’s backline which will give them confidence that they will be able to manipulate these weaknesses to their advantage, for example throughout the tournament we have witnessed Brazil being very relaxed, almost too relaxed when in possession of the ball deep inside their own half with Marcelo and Dani Alves trying to run the ball out of trouble and often being caught in possession. With Spain’s rigorous pressing game which we have seen destroy teams in the past, it could well be dangerous for Marcelo and Dani Alves to spend too long on the ball in these aforementioned defensive areas with Pedro and David Silva/Fabregas likely to be closing them down before they have decided what they are going to try and do with the ball. This, should Marcelo or Dani Alves lose the ball, could present Spain with a great opportunity in a dangerous area.

We can see here just how Marcelo and Dani Alves' procrastination on the ball in their own defensive areas could be punished by Spain. The yellow dashed arrows around both Alves and Marcelo indicate their usual movements with the ball in that area, they usually move in a circle to try and keep the ball and move forward with it still in their possession. This then allows David Silva and Pedro to move forward and press them which is illustrated by the red forward lines and should the two attacking players dispossess either of the Brazilian full backs we see both Iniesta and Torres, circled in blue, ready to pick up the ball in a really key dangerous area. This is a perfect example of what Italy didn't allow Spain to accomplish in Fortaleza.

We can see here just how Marcelo and Dani Alves’ procrastination on the ball in their own defensive areas could be punished by Spain. The yellow dashed arrows around both Alves and Marcelo indicate their usual movements with the ball in that area, they usually move in a circle to try and keep the ball and move forward with it still in their possession. This then allows David Silva and Pedro to move forward and press them which is illustrated by the red forward lines and should the two attacking players dispossess either of the Brazilian full backs we see both Iniesta and Torres, circled in blue, ready to pick up the ball in a really key dangerous area. This is a perfect example of what Italy didn’t allow Spain to accomplish in Fortaleza.

The midfield dynamic created by both teams is a potentially riveting one ahead of this evening’s matchup, with Brazil likely to continue with the as yet successful partnership of Luis Gustavo and Paulinho whereas Spain will line up with an all Barcelona trio across the middle of the pitch in the form of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta. Brazil have dominated the majority of games they have been involved in this tournament through Gustavo and Paulinho with Gustavo breaking up attacks and Paulinho then bringing the ball forward, this has forced opposition midfields to be rendered completely ineffective with Japan’s combination of Endo and Hasebe being put under so much pressure by Brazil’s midfield duo that Hasebe ended up playing as deep as a central defender.

This won’t happen against Spain simply because they have the anchor of Sergio Busquets sitting behind Xavi and Iniesta, Iniesta likes to push forward as much as Paulinho with Xavi when possible willing to do the same, Brazil will not be able to power through the middle of the Spanish midfield in the manner they did against Mexico, Japan and to a degree Italy in the final group fixture, they will have to pass the ball to a player in the wide area as soon as they win it through Gustavo in order for the game not to become congested in the middle. Conversely however if Brazil use Oscar cleverly this evening and deploy him to essentially man mark Sergio Busquets like Sir Alex Ferguson did perfectly with Ji Sung Park against Andrea Pirlo when Manchester United faced AC Milan in 2010, then Brazil could change the midfield dynamic by to a two vs. two scenario in which they have thrived this tournament.

This diagram shows the midfield battle that could take place at the Maracana this evening. The blue circle around both Oscar and Busquets indicates the area within which Oscar would be able to block Busquets off and the yellow arrows indicate the movements Oscar will have to make to prevent Busquets being the anchor for Xavi and Iniesta. With Busquets occupied by Oscar the midfield dynamic returns to an evenly numbered two vs. two with Paulinho having the opportunity to push Iniesta and Xavi backwards courtesy of his powerful runs, which will reduce the effectiveness of the Spanish midfield significantly. How effective this tactic is all depends on Oscar and with the Chelsea midfielder having struggled with fitness throughout the tournament it will be interesting to see for how long he can keep the pressure on Busquets.

This diagram shows the midfield battle that could take place at the Maracana this evening. The blue circle around both Oscar and Busquets indicates the area within which Oscar would be able to block Busquets off and the yellow arrows indicate the movements Oscar will have to make to prevent Busquets being the anchor for Xavi and Iniesta. With Busquets occupied by Oscar the midfield dynamic returns to an evenly numbered two vs. two with Paulinho having the opportunity to push Iniesta and Xavi backwards courtesy of his powerful runs, which will reduce the effectiveness of the Spanish midfield significantly. How effective this tactic is all depends on Oscar and with the Chelsea midfielder having struggled with fitness throughout the tournament it will be interesting to see for how long he can keep the pressure on Busquets.

Prediction: I cannot see Brazil changing their style of play to match how Italy played on Thursday evening, I believe Scolari will set his team up in a very similar manner to how he did for the semi-final match against Uruguay and as so the Spanish pressing game will be able to have an impact on the outcome of the match. I do however feel the midfield battle I have described above could be fascinating to watch and depending on how effective Oscar is in shackling Busquets we could well see Brazil dominate the midfield which would allow Brazil to easily get the ball to Neymar on the left hand side.  Spain I think will have just too much quality for Brazil and will shade it 2-1.

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Brazil vs. Uruguay a Confederations Cup Preview

Brazil appear to be hitting full throttle right when it counts with the Selecao progressing to the Semi-Final stage of their Confederations Cup with relative ease after winning all three of their group matches which included a highly impressive 4-2 victory over the much fancied Italy who like Brazil have also impressed thus far this summer. Brazil after finishing top of Group A, have the virtue of avoiding Spain in the first Semi-Final and will face the runners up of Group B, Uruguay. Brazil and Uruguay have quite the history in International competition with the great Brazilian defeat to Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup “final” being remembered in a disastrous light by Brazil to this day.

Neymar is the third top scorer in this year's Confederations Cup silencing a lot of his European doubters.

Neymar is the third top scorer in this year’s Confederations Cup silencing a lot of his European doubters.

Uruguay head into their Semi-Final match against Brazil on Wednesday in somewhat mixed form with Oscar Tabarez’s side having looked simply woeful against Spain in their tournament opener before scraping a 2-1 victory against Nigeria which all but saw the South American’s through with only Tahiti left to play, who they would go onto defeat 8-0. I could quite easily be sat here looking towards a Brazil-Nigeria Semi-Final with the African side having for the most part played far greater football than the Uruguayans with Nigeria in the first half at least giving Spain’s defence a number of problems yesterday evening however courtesy of a Diego Forlan wonder goal Uruguay progressed.

There hasn’t been the same attacking zip to the Uruguay team which we have come to expect from La Celeste following their eye catching attacking displays in South Africa at the last World Cup and in the 2011 Copa America with coach Tabarez struggling to accommodate the three of Luiz Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan into his starting eleven, especially with his preference towards Gaston Ramirez in the ‘false nine’ role just behind the forwards. As well as issues going forward there has been alarming problems at the heart of Uruguay’s defence with the ever reliable Diego Lugano in the twilight years of his well travelled career, unable to defend at an international level any longer.

The former Fenerbahce central defender has found himself unable to keep up with the pace of opposition attackers with Nigeria giving him a real problem with their pace in abundance going forward and his positioning has also fallen short of what is required at International level. Tabarez upon entering the tournament knew this would be a problem and tried to combat it by deploying Lugano as a libero style Sweeper with Diego Godin and Martin Caceres as the two central defenders just ahead of him, therefore allowing Lugano to save his energy and only really have to sweep up any danger that gets past Godin and Caceres. Whilst in theory this was a good idea it has backfired due to the poor performances of Godin and Caceres with their positioning being called into question on a number of occasions with particular reference to Nigeria’s equalising goal against Uruguay last week where Diego Lugano was left on his own in the penalty area against John Obi Mikel who waltzed round him with ease. This is an area where Uruguay will have to tighten up significantly if they are to have any chance of stopping the man of the tournament so far, Neymar.

Uruguay Coach Oscar Tabarez has a lot of work to do on his defence ahead of Wednesday's Semi-Final clash with Brazil.

Uruguay Coach Oscar Tabarez has a lot of work to do on his defence ahead of Wednesday’s Semi-Final clash with Brazil.

Brazil after heading into their home Confederations Cup under immense pressure and in poor form on the pitch the Selecao has gone from strength to strength in each game they have played. After impressing initially but not for a concerted period of time against Japan in their first match they then improved and dominated a Mexico side that had the players to pose a threat before going on to produce their best performance of the tournament on Saturday evening in a 4-2 victory over Italy.

Over the course of the past three matches everything has come together for Brazil, the fans amidst scenes of extreme violence and protest on the streets of Brazil have joined together to back the Selecao with considerable fervour, Neymar has shrugged off all the pressure placed upon him by an expectant audience both at home and throughout Europe by scoring in every game of the tournament thus far and the midfield pairing of Luis Gustavo and Paulinho have adapted to each other’s games superbly well and this has allowed them to dominate games from the middle of the pitch. However there is still one area which bothers me about the Brazilian team and that is predictably, the defence.

Luiz Felipe Scolari has gone with Daniel Alves and Marcelo as his full backs for the tournament with both having a preference to go forward and support attacks down their respective flank however this, particularly in the case of Marcelo has caused defensive focus to be put to one side which has shown signs of being potentially damaging for Brazil if they were to come up against a more potent attack. Italy gained a lot of space down the left hand side with Emanuele Giaccherini scoring the Italian’s equaliser after a Mario Balotelli flick found the Juventus midfielder on his own down the left hand side with Marcelo nowhere to be found, this then put Thiago Silva under a great deal of pressure with the Paris Saint Germain defender having to make a decision whether to close Giaccherini down making a routine cutback easy for the Italian or staying central and hoping Giaccherini missed.

David Luiz at centre half has also given me some worries with regards to Brazil’s solidity at the back and the Chelsea defender’s tendency to dive in and try and nick the ball away from an attacker’s feet has seen Thiago Silva put under increased pressure when Luiz has mistimed his lunge forward. The quick feet and clever movement of Luis Suarez as well as his preference to go to ground under minimal contact could render David Luiz’s style of defender problematic and Luis Felipe Scolari certainly has a decision to make as to whether he wants to introduce the much more reliable Dante who did impress during his time on the pitch against Italy, to the starting line-up to combat the speed and movement of Suarez.

Oscar Tabarez has found there is little substitute for experience in the case of Diego Forlan, with the experienced striker when selected to start against Nigeria impressing sizeably and it is expected that the former Manchester United forward will once again feature in Uruguay’s starting line-up against Brazil alongside Suarez and Cavani with La Celeste knowing their only chance of progressing through to the final is to exploit Brazil’s defensive weaknesses. Should as I expect, Tabarez go with the aforementioned three pronged forward attack then it is unlikely Gaston Ramirez will start and this in turn puts pressure on Uruguay in the middle of midfield with Perez and Gargano going up against Gustavo and Paulinho directly with Gargano likely being trusted to sit slightly behind Perez.

This is a system which when pitted against Brazil thrive, with the power of Gustavo and Paulinho stopping an opposition’s midfield two from gaining any foothold in the game as we saw with Endo and Hasebe in the tournament opener where Hasebe was forced far deeper than Japanese coach Zaccheroni would have liked due to the forward runs of Paulinho. There is every chance this could happen to Gargano should Oscar Tabarez choose not to play Gaston Ramirez.

This illustrates how Paulinho and Gustavo will press the Uruguay midfield pairing of Gargano and Perez which will stop Perez being able to advance forward and support attacks as well as forcing Walter Gargano to drop far deeper than is positive. The yellow dashed arrow shows where Walter Gargano can be pushed back to by Brazil's pressing game which lessens his effectiveness dramatically.

This illustrates how Paulinho and Gustavo will press the Uruguay midfield pairing of Gargano and Perez which will stop Perez being able to advance forward and support attacks as well as forcing Walter Gargano to drop far deeper than is positive. The yellow dashed arrow shows where Walter Gargano can be pushed back to by Brazil’s pressing game which lessens his effectiveness dramatically.

Brazil will be mindful of the threat Uruguay pose going forward however it Luis Gustavo and Paulinho do the job they have been doing together throughout the tournament, bar the final match against Italy which Paulinho missed through injury then there is a big chance Suarez, Cavani and Forlan will become isolated. Coach Oscar Tabarez alternatively might see this coming and choose to sacrifice one of his attacking trio and pack the middle of the midfield.

Prediction: Brazil are obvious favourites for the first Confederations Cup Semi-Final and with good reason, they are in fine fettle and show no signs of regressing and with Neymar seemingly having the ability to turn everything he touches into gold, it promises to be a very tough ninety minutes at least for Uruguay especially if they don’t rectify their defensive problems before heading to Belo Horizonte on Wednesday evening. With Uruguay having not performed to their potential throughout the tournament so far it is difficult to see them producing the required performance necessary to beat Brazil and for Oscar Tabarez’s men to reach the final Uruguay may well not to surprise Brazil either with their selection or style of play. To conclude I think Brazil’s quality across the pitch in particularly Neymar on the left hand side will be more than too much for Uruguay and I can see Brazil reaching the final comfortably by a score of 2-0.

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4