This year’s Confederations Cup has been fantastic from a football point of view thus far, and extremely interesting from a political point of view given all that has gone on in Brazil in the last week or so. Two great semi finals await – one a replay of the 1950 World Cup final match between Brazil and Uruguay (sadly not at the Maracana but at the stadium above), the other a replay of last year’s European Championship final, where a Balotelli-less Italy must try to stop Spain putting four past them again.
As well as letting me know that a Confederations Cup doesn’t have to be dull and pointless, this year’s tournament has also thrown up a few other talking points.
1. Neymar is actually really, really good
If Neymar can take the form he’s shown in this tournament so far into even half a season with Barcelona, the Catalan club will have made some return on their investment. The key unanswered question is “can he play in the same side as Messi” – if the answer is “yes”, then I expect the mohawked-Brazilian to create something of an impression in his first season in Spain. Yes, he will throw himself about a bit, and yes he may not be able to do it on a wet Tuesday night (it’s always a Tuesday) in Bilbao and/or Stoke-on-Trent quite yet, but that looks like it will come in time. If he scores 10 or 15 goals next season of similar quality to those he’s scored for Brazil in the last week and a bit, he’ll do just fine.
2. Tahiti are really, really bad
This, of course, we already knew prior to the tournament. Despite Tahiti’s general incompetence, it was great seeing Jonathan Tehau score against Nigeria and he and his team-mates pull out their paddle celebration; one also had to admire their sportsmanship and willingness to score, particularly against the Spanish. In the end, however, with a record of Played 3, Lost 3, F1, A24, Tahiti just weren’t very good. At all. Steevy Chong Hue for me was their one decent-ish player, a particular highlight being when he skinned Efe Ambrose down the Nigerian right in the first few minutes of Tahiti’s first match. Whether or not he can play to any decent level away from French Polynesia remains to be seen.
3. Spain’s second string is scary
Reina, Ramos, Monreal, Albiol, Azpilicueta, Martinez, Cazorla, Silva, Villa, Torres, Mata. Not the shopping list of the Monaco owner (as far as I know) but the reserve side which Spain put out for their 10-0 victory over Tahiti in the second set of group matches. Oh and Jesus Navas came on for Ramos at half-time. Players who would walk into most other international sides in the world and they can’t get a starting berth for Spain. Ridiculous, and with Spain’s U-21s triumphing in their European Championship final (against Italy) there’s only more Spanish dominance and strength in depth to come.
4. If Japan had a half-decent striker they’d be potential 2014 semi-finalists
Although I did sing Kensuke Nagai’s praises this time last year, I’m not sure he’s the answer to this particular question. As has been seen through their three group matches, Japan have technical quality in abundance. Keisuke Honda is verging on being world-class; Shinji Kagawa has looked excellent and will no doubt improve on his slightly tentative first season in Manchester in the coming months; while Eiji Kawashima is a reliable custodian between the sticks. What Japan particularly lack (let’s skirt over their patchy defending) is a clinical international striker. Change Torres, Villa or even Soldado’s shirt colour from red and yellow to blue, and suddenly Japan might not lose by so much to Brazil, might even beat Italy and probably give Mexico a bit of a hiding. Up to the edge of the penalty area, Japan were one of the best sides in this tournament. Inside it, they were somewhat lacking in bite.
5. The Brazilian public are not happy
The average Brazilian is clearly not particularly pleased about vast sums of public money being spent on football stadia, rather than on more meaningful and sustainable infrastructure. Brazilian taxpayers were told in 2007 that private money would largely pay for the stadiums and any associated improvements to airports, roads, etc for the World Cup; in the end, the public purse has covered around 90% of this expenditure. Understandably, and given their country’s increasing riches, the people of Brazil would rather have seen that money spent on education or healthcare. Unfortunately they are now a bit late in the day – the stadiums are built and the World Cup will, bar a major incident of some description, go ahead next year. Dilma Rousseff has pledged a number of measures to alleviate some of the protestors’ concerns; it will certainly be interesting to see how the rest of this tournament unfolds on the streets of Rio, Fortaleza and elsewhere in response to those.
The major test of course, comes next year. Given that in August 2011 we Brits all had riots on the brain and that by August 2012 we were singing the praises of modern pentathletes and waxing lyrical about dressage round the water cooler, one could be accused of scaremongering by way of associating these protests with any kind of campaign of unrest in Brazil leading up to next year’s tournament. We shall have to wait and see – however I would imagine the World Cup will go ahead as planned, and peacefully.