Brazil 3-0 Spain: Spain unable to cope with Brazil’s pace and power on the break

July 1, 2013

The starting line-ups

Brazil won the Confederations Cup at the Maracana after a convincing demolition of the world champions.

Luis Felipe Scolari stuck with his usual side – in five games he only deviated from this XI once, when Paulinho wasn’t 100% fit for the final group game.

Vicente Del Bosque brought in Juan Mata on the left of his 4-3-3 system, but otherwise the side was unchanged.

Brazil yet again started superbly – but Spain failed to mount a significant fightback.

Brazil press

The key feature at the start of the game was Brazil’s pressing – they started the match at a very high tempo, and refused to let Spain settle on the ball inside their own half. This early burst has been a common feature of their matches at this tournament, and has been crucial in them taking early leads – they scored in the third minute against Japan, in the ninth minute against Mexico, and went ahead after two minutes here.

Pressing Spain takes much more courage than pressing any other side in world football, but Scolari may have been inspired by the performances of both Italy and Nigeria against Del Bosque’s side – both tried to compete in midfield and had success when winning the ball close to the halfway line. Sides have become braver against Spain, and realised they don’t have to park the bus.

Spain’s approach was much more cautious – they didn’t press high up, and instead attempted to remain compact in their own half. This meant that they needed to enforce their own style on the contest from an early stage, or be forced to weather the early storm – which they weren’t capable of.

Hulk v Alba

Hulk has been Brazil’s most disappointing player in this tournament and wasn’t one of their better performers here, but his battle against Spain left-back Jordi Alba was important in the opening stages. This was, on paper, the game’s key clash – Alba was Spain’s key player against Uruguay and Nigeria but was exposed defensively against Italy.

With Juan Mata offering little support, Alba was isolated one-against-one with Hulk, and Brazil sent a few good diagonals out to that flank, allowing Hulk the ability to win the ball aerially. The opening goal arose following one of these balls – Alba was unable to win the ball or stop the cross, then Fred beat Gerard Pique and Alvaro Arbeloa at the far post.

This felt like one of the many Barcelona v Real Madrid games we’ve witnessed over the last few years – one side attempting to play short tiki-taka, the other starting by pressing them high and then playing ruthless counter-attacking football for the rest of the game.


Fred was a key man throughout this game – his two goals will increase his popularity, but equally important was the fact he offered an option for a long ball upfront, and was capable of knocking it down to onrushing midfield players. His lay-off were handy throughout – his deft touch found Oscar midway through the first half, which should have been 2-0.

Fred was also extremely useful defensively, dropping back and keeping Brazil compact, but also contributing when defending set-pieces. He missed a one-on-one towards the end of the first half, but just 25 seconds earlier he’d made an excellent defensive header from a corner, to help launch the Brazil attack in the first place.

Brazil directness

Brazil had clearly been instructed to break directly with the ball, and with Spain not committed to pressing once they’d lost possession, and Busquets often stranded alone in front of the defence, Brazil’s best opportunities came when Spain misplaced passes on the opposition half. This happened with alarming regularity – Mata, Alba and Arbeloa all passedstraight to opponents when under relatively little pressure, while Xavi Hernandez wanted too long on the ball and was dispossessed.

There are too many counter-attacking chances to list, but the second goal – scored by Neymar – was particularly interesting. There, Busquets is drawn to Neymar in a central position, and Neymar’s flick eludes him, which gives Oscar oceans of space between the lines – he has twenty yards to himself, and eventually swaps passes with Neymar before the forwards slams the ball into the net. It’s rare to see such a large gap between Spain’s lines, and Brazil constantly took advantage.

Brazi’s immediacy was obvious throughout the game, and Scolari’s side kept hitting Spain’s defence immediately. A constant theme was Spain’s back four resorting to highly cynical fouls to stop these attacks – Sergio Ramos brought down Oscar, Arbeloa brought down Neymar and in the second half Gerard Pique was dismissed for tripping Neymar. Breaking against the high defensive line has always been an obvious tactic against Spain (and Barcelona) but usually sides have to overcome heavy pressing to get those opportunities – here, Brazil played the ball out of defence easily.

Both sides attacked primarily down the left (

Spain shape

Xavi had a brief spell of steadying the game midway through the first half, but otherwise Spain were overrun. In hindsight, this was a match where Del Bosque’s double pivot would have made sense – Javi Martinez could have been played alongside Busquets to offer more protection for the defence, and more physicality in midfield.

Spain’s best chance came when Pedro Rodriguez’s shot was brilliantly cleared off the line by David Luiz (shortly before Neymar made it 2-0) and the goal was an example of how opponents can exploit Brazil.

The Brazilian centre-backs stuck extremely tightly to the opposition centre-forward, with both Luiz and Thiago Silva doing that against Fernando Torres here – for Pedro’s chance, Silva was drawn out of position, and Mata burst into that space and provided the key pass.

This was something Spain didn’t do frequently enough, and while it’s difficult to know whether it would have been more successful, the use of a false nine would have been particularly interesting – it might have resulted in Brazil’s centre-backs constantly dragged out of position.

Second half

Arbeloa had a difficult first half and was replaced by Cesar Azpilicueta at the break, but Brazil almost immediately scored a third from that flank – Fred hitting a measured shot into the far corner after briefly swapping positions with Neymar, who cleverly left the ball.

Spain also seemed to change shape to more of a 4-2-3-1, with Andres Iniesta deeper close to Busquets, and Xavi higher up, close to Torres. This meant Iniesta saw more of the ball, and his bursts in possession were Spain’s best chance of creating chances from open play.

Five minutes after Brazil’s goal Del Bosque made his standard change – Navas on for a narrow midfielder (Mata) and going to the right, with Pedro switching flanks. This gave Spain more forward momentum, and Navas won a penalty after a silly Marcelo tackle after just four minutes on the pitch – but Ramos shot wide, which seemed to end the chances of a comeback.

From then, the game was uneventful. Brazil continued to sporadically threaten with balls over the top of the Spain defence, but were also content to slow the game when in possession and invite olés from the crowd. David Villa on for Torres changed little, while Pique’s red card meant Spain just sat back and defended.


It’s impossible to ignore the importance of physical conditioning here – Spain looked absolutely exhausted. They’d had one less day rest after their semi-final – where they were forced to play a draining period of extra-time against Italy. Their pressing was non-existent, and they were outfought physically in the midfield battle too.

Brazil’s approach was simple but effective – they pressed at the start, ensured the game was played at a high tempo, and broke immediately when they won possession. Fred led the attack intelligently, while Neymar and Oscar provided clever flicks to evade opponents and ensure counter-attacks continued, and Hulk got the better of Alba early on.

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