Outlook better on pitch than off it
5 July ~ The comfortable 3-0 margin of Brazil's win over Spain in the Confederations Cup final on Sunday confounded commentators in the same way as France's humiliation of Brazil in the 1998 World Cup or the demolition of Barcelona by Bayern Munich in the Champions League this season. Brazil's leading football analyst Tostão, writing in the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, suggested that it will be difficult for Brazil to surpass this performance at the World Cup. But a home win in itself was hardly a seismic shock.
Before the match many fans and pundits were speculating that home advantage and Spain's limited recovery time from a draining semi-final win over Italy in a shootout could tip the scales in Brazil's favour.
Winning has eased twin pressures on Brazil: demands for a settled team and a coherent tactical approach have been addressed. While Neymar's four goals helped him become Player of the Tournament the dependency on the Barcelona star remains. Fred's impact was welcome for a striker out in the cold under previous national team coach Mano Menezes. Yet despite Fred's prolific year for Brazil, some still criticise the use of a fixed central striker. Sunday's result has for now dispelled any clamour for Ronaldinho, although the absence of a playmaker is still keenly felt.
One explanation for Brazil's apparent giant leap forward in the Confederations Cup after poor recent form is that for once the squad had extended training and a sequence of competitive matches. Home support grew with each game. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari brought on Atlético Mineiro's Bernard against Uruguay in a brazen ploy to rally the crowd behind a local player. The Confederations Cup was effectively a test event, with Brazil's main city São Paulo not involved and 20,000 foreign visitors rather than the 600,000 expected next year. Average gates of 50,291 were encouraging, although the notionally appealing Nigeria v Uruguay game drew less than 30,000 in Salvador.
FIFA's attitude towards the widespread civil unrest in Brazil during the tournament recalled the decision to play on made after the death of Cameroon player Marc-Vivien Foé in the 2003 Confederations Cup. Cancellation, according to secretary general Jérôme Valcke, never crossed minds of FIFA officials as it would have rendered Brazil untenable as World Cup host.
Sunday's Maracanã game saw further confrontations between police and demonstrators a few blocks away. Inside, the closing ceremony witnessed volunteers protesting against privatisation of the Maracanã and supporting gay rights. With Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff controversially absent from the final after being jeered at the opening game, the coming weeks promise a flurry of diplomatic activity to show that FIFA are able be able to work effectively alongside both the Brazilian federation and the local organising committee.
While their list of complaints seem trivial compared to the protestors' grievances, FIFA say that ticketing, transport and stadium food have to be improved before the World Cup. A review of kick-off times might also help. The 1pm start for Italy v Uruguay was only explicable as it allowed Sepp Blatter, in something of a manic rush, to attend both the third-place game and the final. In the latter an in-form Spanish team would have been a more useful and entertaining presence. Robert Shaw