Five things we learnt from round one of the Confederations Cup

Brendon Netto discusses five things we learnt from the first round of fixtures in the Confederations Cup..
 Brendon Netto
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Three minutes into the 2013 Confederations Cup, the home support had the Maracana stadium reverberating in ecstasy. Neymar’s sensational strike in the opening game against Japan jumpstarted Brazil’s tournament and provided an electric start to the competition. With the first round of fixtures now completed, Goal discusses five things the opening encounters taught us.

Attack is always the best policy for Brazil

Brazil’s style of play has always revolved around flair and attacking intent. They may not boast the best defense but their flamboyant attack can blow teams away. Luiz Felipe Scolari’s decision to play a fluid 4-3-3 formation against Japan paid dividends.

In the past, the coach preferred a more compact 4-4-2 formation or its variant, 4-2-2-2. While those systems certainly strengthen the core of the side and compensate for their porous defense, it also serves to stifle their attacking players with Oscar and Hulk in particular being restrained.

The 4-3-3 system was of course tried in their latest friendly against France which yielded a 3-0 victory. Neymar and Hulk offered plenty of penetration down the flanks and were always dangerous when cutting inside while the overlapping runs of Marcelo and Dani Alves caused problems for Japan more often than not.

The fluidity in their play was notable and they did move the ball quicker than they have done in the recent past. Oscar thrived in the middle as opposed to his role on the right flank of late. His through ball for Jo to score the third goal emphasized that. Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo were excellent in midfield and having kept back-to-back clean sheets with this approach, attack could well be the best form of defense for the Selecao.


Andrea Pirlo is still the architect

Like fine wine, Andrea Pirlo seems to get better with age. The legendary midfielder marked his 100th appearance for Italy with the sort of panache only a player of his calibre could. His simply exquisite free-kick opened the scoring in the first half against Mexico.

Apart from his sensational goal, the Juventus midfielder cruised in and around the center circle for most of the game which acted like a vantage point for a seasoned marksman. From there, he was able to dictate play and set the tempo. He dispatched a few sumptuous cross-field balls to forward runners with Ignazio Abate being the beneficiary of perhaps the best of the lot.

Giovanni dos Santos and Javier Hernandez did try to drop deep and shadow Pirlo from time to time but the ploy was never carried out with the level of conviction it demanded. The fact that many have questioned how Italy and Juventus will cope once Pirlo’s legs give in, much like they questioned Manchester United’s fate with regard to Paul Scholes, is testament to his continued importance to his teams and is perhaps one of the more telling compliments for the midfield maestro.


Spain prove they can play a striker and do without Xabi Alonso

Despite Brazil’s performance in the opening fixture of the tournament, Spain proved that they are still the team to beat with a 2-1 win over Uruguay. At the heart of their victory was the Barcelona midfield trio of Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Sergio Busquets. Together, they conducted Spain’s play masterfully and with a higher level of fluidity than before.

However, that doesn’t bode well for Real Madrid’s Xabi Alonso. Instead of missing a truly world class midfielder through injury, Spain thrived with a more dynamic midfield in place having abandoned the double pivot in Alonso’s absence. Xavi and Alonso are both primarily distributors but Iniesta can drive forward from that position and add a new dimension to their midfield.

Up front, Roberto Soldado was a revelation for Spain. Playing as a typical number nine, the Valencia man was a target in the opposition’s penalty box. His runs in behind also stretched the defense and offered more space to his colleagues around him.

Soldado was inches away from connecting with a couple of crosses played across the six yard box and on another day, a striker of his pedigree could have had a hat-trick. When Cesc Fabregas plays as a false nine, he drops deep and rarely positions himself to feed off those kinds of crosses that poachers thrive on. Playing with a false nine tends to congest play in the final third.


A fearless Tahiti emerge ‘victorious’ in defeat

Despite suffering a 6-1 hammering at the hands of Nigeria, Tahiti can hold their heads up high. A team predominantly made up of amateurs, caused the African champions plenty of problems. The most admirable aspect of the Oceanic side’s performance was their willingness to attack even though it left them vulnerable at the back.

They refused to ‘park the bus’ when no one would've blamed them if they did. Instead, they regularly ventured forward and in doing so, won over the neutrals and captured the imagination of the footballing world. When Jonathan Tehau scored from a corner, the stadium erupted in a manner to suggest that the host nation themselves had hit the back of the net. Such was the support for the Tahitians in light of their fearless attitude.

If that’s the only highlight of their tournament, Tahiti will go home in high spirits. At the very least, they’ve put their country on the map.


Make or break time for Mexico and Japan

Wins for Brazil and Italy over Japan and Mexico respectively saw Group A take its somewhat predetermined shape after the first round of fixtures. Japan in particular should be most disappointed after a performance that didn’t live up to their billing. Mexico were always second best against the Italians but showed some fight and nearly came away with a point.

Even a draw for the Asian or North American champions would have thrown a spanner in the works but as it stands, the next game is all important. Neither side can afford a defeat and will look to pull off upsets in their respective games against the top two in the group. Their opening day defeats have effectively landed them in a do or die situation and they'll have to fight to stay in the competition.

What do you make of the first round of games? Send in your thoughts in the comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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