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Goal.com’s KS Leong ponders who will triumph in a hypothetical showdown between the top two footballing nations in the world today…

It was a blockbuster battle that many expected to see in the 2009 Confederations Cup final, a dream clash that could potentially have been repeated 12 months later in the World Cup final: a showdown between five-time world champions Brazil and the reigning European kings, Spain.

But it never materialised, ofcourse, when the Spaniards went down to a tenacious USA side in the semi-finals of the Confed Cup while the Selecao waltzed to yet another international accolade… as they do.

It’s not the first time the two traditional giants have avoided each other. They could also have locked horns in the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup. In fact, there have been only eight previous encounters between them, with the South Americans winning four times and the Iberians twice. The last meeting came almost exactly 10 years ago (November 1999) in a friendly that ended, rather anti-climactically, in a goalless stalemate.

But a Brazil showdown with the dominant Spain side of today would be a completely different contest. It’s a mouth-watering feast that football fans around the globe would love to witness especially now that the two teams are on top of the world, seemingly miles ahead of everyone else.

The Selecao and La Seleccion are ranked first and second respectively in the FIFA world rankings, separated by a mere 16 points, as of September 2009. They have an assemblage of some of the best players at present, they are two of the most in-form sides (Brazil losing just once in their last 20 games and Spain once in their last 41) and they continually champion the joga bonito philosophy.

But who would emerge victorious if they were to meet today, with all the best players at the disposal of Dunga and Vicente del Bosque?

GOALKEEPERS

Julio Cesar vs Iker Casillas

The Real Madrid miracle man and the Inter shot-stopper are two of the best goalkeepers in the world today, although the Brazilian doesn’t get nearly as much recognition as some of his other peers such as Edwin van der Sar or Petr Cech.

The pair of them are almost unbeatable when it comes to one-on-ones and point-blank, reflex stops. Neither, however, look very comfortable in the air although Julio tend to show a safer pair of hands. But when it comes to pulling off the impossible fly-through-the-air saves, there is only one ‘San Iker’.

DEFENCE

Maicon, Lucio, Luisao, Andre Santos vs Sergio Ramos, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Joan Capdevila

Maicon and Sergio Ramos are generally regarded as two of the top attacking right-backs in the game, although a certain Dani Alves might have something to say about that.

Lucio and Pique are very similar players, although separated by nearly ten years worth of experience. They are both strong in the air, they are masters in the art of standing tackling, and they love bringing the ball forward from the back, which they perform with some conviction.

Spain’s Achilles Heel has always been their backline and although there have been massive improvements in the past few years to the extent that they can now boast one of the best defensive records in the UEFA World Cup qualifiers, the Brazilians do defend better as a whole.

MIDFIELD

Elano, Kaka, Gilberto Silva, Felipe Melo vs Xavi, Marcos Senna, Andres Iniesta, David Silva

 

Brazil do not have the most dazzling array of attacking flair in midfield. Instead, they are a unit built on solid teamwork, disciplined defending, and a lot of hustling. Gilberto Silva rarely sets foot on the opposition’s half of the turf while Melo, who can be exciting to watch at times when he gallops forward like a gazelle, needs a lot of coaxing to come out of his defensive shell and join the attack. Kaka, is the only player who provides any kind of creative input, although Elano does contribute occasionally.

Spain, meanwhile, are overflowing with a swagger of talent. There’s no team in world football today that can outplay Spain’s midfield at present, except maybe for La Furia Roja’s second string of midfielders that would, in theory, comprise of Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas and Juan Mata.

Marcos Senna does all the dirty work in front of the rearguard while the other three. Xavi, Iniesta and Silva, can pass the ball around with each other blindfolded and make it look like a work of art on a green canvas while at the same time leave their opponents dizzy and seasick from running around chasing shadows.  

ATTACK

Luis Fabiano, Robinho vs David Villa, Fernando Torres

Two La Liga-based strikers and two Premier League-based hot-shots.

Luis Fabiano and David Villa are currently the two most lethal finishers at international level. ‘O Fabuloso’ has 16 goals in his last 13 appearances for his national team while ‘El Guaje’ has 15 strikes in his last 16 outings in the red shirt of Spain.

Robinho and Torres can’t boast that kind of goalscoring ratio but then again, they are the supporting act to their respective country’s main marksman. And their contributions cannot be overlooked. ‘O Principe’ is vital to a Brazil side who often rely heavily on the counter-attack, thanks to his searing pace and his understanding with Kaka.

On the other hand, ‘El Nino’, who is one of the most high profile superstars in La Roja, frequently acts as a foil to draw out defenders and open up space of his team-mates to exploit.

COACHES

Dunga vs Vicente del Bosque

In a pound for pound battle, Spain would appear to have, on paper at least, the better collection of players. But football is not all black and white. Tactics and strategy often nullifies the genius produced by the superstar players, as the USA demonstrated so emphatically.

Under Dunga, Brazil have successfully blended a good mix of entertaining football and tactical nous. They have become more patient and conservative and no longer is it an obligation for their players to squeeze in five pedaladas, four pirouettes, three sombreros, two chileñas and one 50-yard freekick goal all into a 90 minute game of football.

They are not defensive-minded by any means, but they don’t play the kind of all-out attacking football normally associated with past Brazilian sides. And their fans have begun to accept the fact that this is not a Selecao team that will dominate their opponents while playing beautifully, unlike the Spaniards.

Del Bosque’s brigade have only one way of functioning as a footballing side and that is to control possession, keep the ball moving at all times and play a game of tic-tac-toe passing en route to the opponents goal.

It’s a style that has worked 40 times out of the last 41 games, but ever since Euro 2008, La Roja have not really confronted a rival of their own calibre.

OUTCOME

The Spaniards would easily dominate large parts of the game and the Brazilians would happily allow them to do so. With Lucio and Luisao at the back for the Canarinho, the Europeans will win very little in the air, but they would have no problems causing tangled feet on the ground with their sumptuous passing and ball movement.

The South Americans would be extremely dangerous on the counter. With Maicon and Robinho on each flank, Kaka through the middle and Luis Fabiano as the target man, the Spanish defence would be easily perforated on a fast break if they overcommit men forward and grow careless at the back.

As for a predicted result, well, we leave it for you to decide. Let us know what you think the scoreline would be, who would get on the scoresheet, if indeed anyone, and who would be the best player.

KS Leong, Goal.com

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