Sport Soccer

Wednesday 17 January 2018

Fred thrilled with support of fickle fans

Andrew Downie

The early signs from the Confederations Cup are that Brazil's fans can help rather than hinder the team at home; reports of Spain's demise are premature and the heat is going to cause problems for everyone at the World Cup.

Hosts Brazil, already through to the semi-finals along with Italy, came into the tournament under a cloud, with some people questioning whether Luiz Felipe Scolari's young squad has what it takes to beat the best.

But, so far, they have impressed without slipping into top gear, beating Japan 3-0 and Mexico 2-0 to make today's Group A match against Italy in Salvador of interest only to see who qualifies in top spot.

Crucially, their fickle fans have rallied round, ignoring political protests outside the stadiums and cheering on their side both in Brasilia and Fortaleza.

"What's surprised us more than anything is the support we've had from the fans," said striker Fred.

"Obviously, that all depends on how we perform on the pitch, but we hope to carry on winning so that we can keep the run going and, most importantly of all, keep the fans on our side."

It has not always been the case, especially in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, where fans can lose patience with their team even before half-time.

The other big talking point has been the impressive start by world and European champions Spain.

Barcelona and Real Madrid, who provided 10 of the 11 starters in the opening win over Uruguay, were both knocked out the Champions League semi-finals, prompting many to wonder if Spain's era of dominance was over.

The Spaniards answered those doubts by outclassing Uruguay in their first game with a tiki-taka display to rival their best.

Only a failure to convert chances and a brilliant late free-kick from Luis Suarez kept the scoreline respectable for Uruguay as Spain won 2-1.

While Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez recognised Spain's dominance, he joined other coaches in arguing for more rest days between matches.

The temperature and humidity have been high at some venues, especially for afternoon games which have kicked off at 4.0 local time, and Tabarez said his players struggled after their second encounter in four days against Nigeria.

"All football players who have just finished the season in Europe are perhaps not in the best possible shape to play in a high-level tournament," Tabarez said.

EXHAUSTION

"These guys are in good physical shape, but the exhaustion goes on and it marks a player."

Italy and Spain have also complained about the heat and conditions will be more severe at next year's World Cup, with some matches due to kick off at 1.0 in tropical venues such as Recife and Fortaleza.

Despite the fatigue, the cup has been a goal fest with an average of 4.75 over the first eight games, albeit with the help of Tahiti, who have conceded 16 goals.

Other teams have found the mere experience of being in Brazil useful.

"The pitches are great, the atmosphere is wonderful," Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi said after a 2-1 loss to Uruguay. "I just hope all the experience both on and off the field (is useful) and that we can be here next year for the World Cup."

Italy v Brazil,

Live, RTE 2, 8.0

Irish Independent

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