Monday, June 29, 2009


Opportunity Knocks

Congratulations to Brazil on winning their second successive Confederations Cup, in an enthralling final which illustrated the virtues and the defects of both sides very nicely.

As the informative Tim Vickery has often reminded us, the culture of Brazilian football has changed significantly in recent years, and their goalscoring hero Luis Fabiano almost embodies that change.

Opportunism in the final third has become, in my view, the vital weapon in the Brazilian arsenal. Although there was more creative midfield interplay than we often see from modern Brazil sides this morning, due to the space the U.S. vouchsafed them after they went ahead, a 24-pass Cambiasso-style goal never looked likely. Instead, Fabiano took advantage of a second's inattention in the U.S. defence to score that pivotal goal just after the break.

And it was opportunism in more ways than one, too: this was the perfect time for such a counter-blow, both catching the opposition cold and setting the tone for the rest of the half.

Cast your minds back three years, and there was a very similar goal, at a similar stage of the game. This time, a rare misjudgement from Scott Chipperfield, a half-chance for Adriano (another prime opportunist before his psychological problems became overwhelming), and Brazil suddenly took charge of a game in which they had looked disjointed and unsure of themselves.

Yet the old Brazilian defensive problems were manifest at times during this morning's game. Not only on the occasion of the second American goal, but twice afterwards they were badly exposed on the flanks. Brazilian fullbacks have never been in too much of a hurry to track back.

As for the Americans, how much did they owe to Tim Howard? Although their outfield players have rarely been among the world's best, the U.S. have produced three keepers of patent international class in recent years: Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel (one of the players of the 2002 World Cup), and Howard. But for a couple of fine saves in the first half, the tide in this morning's match would surely have turned far earlier than it did.

Ultimately, though, Bob Bradley's brave side couldn't match the Brazilians for ball control, movement and invention, although they perhaps began to sit on their lead a touch too early. But they have the consolation of having taken part in one of the best-ever finals of an international tournament.

The Confederations Cup often produces attractive football (the Brazil v. Egypt game from the opening round was one of the most entertaining matches I've ever seen), even if its competitive relevance is limited. A big thank you to SBS for showing the event in its entirety.

As for the notorious's bloody annoying, of course, but is it really any worse than the obnoxious horns of the 1982 World Cup, or even the ubiquitous rattles of 1966?

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