Jeremy Wilson: Spain set to scale final peak in dream decider
A rare meeting of two football giants should be mouth-watering.
In losing only two competitive matches in seven years, this Spain team have already guaranteed their place in any debate about the greatest side in international football history. With a World Cup and two European Championships in the trophy cabinet, the remaining unconquered challenges or records are also now scarce.
Motivation, then, should not be a problem in Rio de Janeiro tonight when even this golden generation of Spanish players can achieve and experience three things they've never done before.
First and foremost, the Confederations Cup is the one major international tournament that has eluded them. After their shock defeat against the United States in the semi-finals of 2009, they could now become the first team to hold a treble of the main international tournaments. This will also be a match of considerable symbolic meaning. The current Spain side have never previously played against Brazil, the five-time World Cup winners, and certainly not at the iconic Maracana Stadium.
It all adds up to what most neutrals would regard as the dream final for a tournament that, even amid the backdrop of serious social unrest in Brazil, may just have come of age over this past fortnight. Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, described it yesterday as "the best" of all the seven Confederations Cups that have previously been held.
The resurgence of Brazil and the individual performances of Neymar have been central to the tournament's success. Rated as 22nd in the world, Brazil have been in relative crisis in recent years and, with manager Luiz Felipe Scolari deliberately lowering expectations, there is general surprise that they have beaten Mexico, Italy and Uruguay on their way to the final. Even in front of 78,000 home fans at the Maracana tonight there will no sense of Brazil being under any particular pressure.
"We know Spain is the best team in the world and that they have the best players in the world," Neymar said. "We respect them and I admire them a lot, but when the match starts we have full confidence that we can play well to beat them. It's tough to wait for a match like this. We will be playing for our families, our friends, but above all for the Brazilian nation. We are ready for what will be a historic match."
Spain, of course, will be the favourites but their aura of invincibility has slipped in recent months. The failure of Barcelona and Real Madrid to reach the Champions League final has reverberated beyond Europe while they were lucky to beat Italy on penalties in the semi-final.
"The match against Italy showed that Spain can be beaten," said Carlos Alberto Parreira, Brazil's assistant coach. Scolari is similarly optimistic and believes that he has now laid a springboard for next summer: "We achieved our goal of getting to the final and giving the players a sense of unity and the fans an idea that we have a good team that can get to the final of the World Cup."
Tonight will also be an occasion with plenty of Premier League interest. Spain's Juan Mata says that he and David Luiz, his Chelsea team-mate, have been joking about the fixture. Mata, though, is eyeing "the perfect" end to his own marathon season of more than 70 matches. "It will be nice to play a team like Brazil in the final – the best football country in history," he said.
Iker Casillas, the Spain captain and goalkeeper, said: "It's a curtain-raiser for the World Cup and everyone who loves football will agree that it should be a great match. The whole world wanted to see a Brazil-Spain final."
Brazil v Spain,
RTE 2/BBC 1, 11pm