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This blog reflects on soccer qua football all over the world. The blog has a specific investment in attractive, attacking football and, as such, focuses on Brazil, the most emphatic historical exponent of the beautiful game.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Paulinho's Header Sends Brazil To Confederations Cup Final With 2-1 Victory Over Uruguay

Brazil clinched a 2-1 victory over Uruguay today to advance to the finals to the Confederations Cup and defend their Confederations Cup title at the Maracana Stadium on Sunday. Brazil will be aiming for a third consecutive Confederations Cup championship at the Maracana stadium and stand to face the winner of Italy and Spain from the other semifinal. Brazil played their standard 4-2-1-3 formation with Neymar and Hulk in wide positions positioned between Fred, the lone centerforward. Uruguay, meanwhile, opted for a 4-3-3 with the dangerous triumvirate of Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani spearheading the attack. Corinthians midfielder Paulinho returned to the Brazil squad after recovering from a mild ankle injury to replace Lazio’s Hernanes, who had started against Italy.

The match got off to a scrappy start as both teams struggled to develop any appreciable fluidity and momentum. Things appeared to liven up in the 14th minute, however, when Chelsea’s David Luiz fouled Diego Lugano in the box and conceded a penalty. Diego Forlan stepped up to the penalty spot but had his kick spectacularly saved by Julio Cesar, who dived to his left to read Forlan’s low drive perfectly. The penalty failed to change the tempo and rhythm of the match, however, as Uruguay applied pressure to Brazil in midfield, forcing the Selecao to attack down the flanks and play the occasional long ball to allow Neymar, Fred and Hulk to get behind the Uruguayan fullbacks. And then, a moment of magic from Neymar ruptured the deadlock in the 40th minute. Neymar chested down a pass from Paulinho, and had his flick of a shot deflected by Uruguayan goalkeeper Muslera. The ball subsequently bounced to Fred who poached the ball into the back of the net to give Brazil a 1-0 lead.

Uruguay responded to Fred’s goal minutes into the second half by playing the ball, through midfield, into the box with the ball eventually falling to Edinson Cavani after a maze of Brazilian defenders failed to clear the ball. Cavani calmly dispatched the ball past Julio Cesar’s right hand to make it 1-1 after 47 minutes. Cavani’s goal energized Brazil, with Neymar, for example, trekking back deeper on the left flank and into central positions in order to obtain an extra yard of space. In the 55th minute, Hulk challenged Muslera with an on target free kick that the Uruguayan keeper punched out for a corner kick. Uruguay, however, held firm by playing deep and bursting forth on the counterattack.

Scolari substituted Bernard for Hulk in the 63rd minute in a move that enlivened the Brazilian attack as Bernard, Oscar and Neymar delivered crisp, triangular combination play that allowed Brazil to penetrate the Uruguayan box on more than one occasion. Brazil dominated possession but found themselves resorting to a longer range shots as Uruguay packed the center of the box with ten men behind the ball. The match appeared to be heading for extra time until the 86th minute, when Paulinho rose to head in a Neymar corner to give Brazil a crucial 2-1 lead with roughly 7 minutes remaining.

This was a crucial victory for Brazil as it propels them to the Confederations Cup final and gives the team the luxury of another competitive game against world class opposition in a major tournament. The match showcased Brazil’s ability to play against skillful opposition who opted for a highly defensive game plan. Once again, Neymar was involved in both goals as he continues to show that the team revolves around him, even though today’s goals came from Fred and Paulinho. Brazil's victory against Uruguay allows soccer fans to dream of the mouthwatering prospect of a Brazil vs. Spain final, in Brazil at the famed Maracana Stadium on Sunday. Before that matchup, however, Spain have to surmount Italy, who will be without Mario Balotelli due to injury, although Andrea Pirlo and Daniele de Rossi are likely to be back in the Italy starting lineup.

Despite today's victory, Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari clearly still has some tweaking to do with the team's performance and positioning, but the reality is that the Brazilian machine is finally starting to click after years of inconsistency and lack of direction. Today, they beat Uruguay on home soil to exorcise the ghost of their famous loss to the same nation in the 1950 World Cup final. On Sunday, the world will know if they have truly exorcised the ghost of 1950 by winning in the Maracana Stadium in the final of a major tournament, given that the Maracana stadium was the site of their historic loss in 1950.

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