CBC Sports - FIFA Confederations Cup

FIFA Confederations CupSouth American rivals clash in Confed Cup semifinals

Posted: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 | 03:01 PM

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Left to right, Brazil players Fred, Neymar, Marcelo and Oscar jog during a training session in Belo Horizonte, Brazil on June 24, 2013. (Vanderlei Almeida/AFP/Getty Images) Left to right, Brazil players Fred, Neymar, Marcelo and Oscar jog during a training session in Belo Horizonte, Brazil on June 24, 2013. (Vanderlei Almeida/AFP/Getty Images)

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After convincing wins over Japan, Mexico and Italy in the first round of the FIFA Confederations Cup, Brazil is once again the talk of international football. The last obstacle between the favourites and the final match is South American rivals Uruguay, writes Nigel Reed.

The rehab is coming along nicely.

The patient is responding to treatment better than expected. Home comforts have helped restore self-confidence, and a positive mental attitude has eased the burden of responsibility. A year away from hosting its global jamboree, the prognosis is encouraging.

Brazil is once again the talk of international football. After years of relative obscurity, confined to going through the motions of meaningless friendlies, Brazil has come to play. The Confederations Cup has given it something to play for and it is enjoying a long overdue taste of competition. 

It has bright new stars leading the way. Neymar and Oscar are growing up fast. The pair of 21-year-old Brazilians are bridging the generation gap in great leaps and maturing rapidly. Playing with freedom and without baggage, the youngsters have added new moves to the samba beat.   

Now Brazil must close the deal. 

The team breezed through the group stages. Convincing wins over Japan and Mexico were followed by a four-star performance against the Italians. It wasn't perfect from a technical standpoint, but any team with the offensive verve to score four goals against the Azzurri must be doing something right.

Hot streak

Brazil is on a roll and hungry for success. True, the Confederations Cup cannot be compared with winning the World Cup, but it is a significant staging post for the competitors to compare themselves against international rivals who will return as contenders 12 months hence.  

The hosts have won 10 straight games at this mini World Cup. The streak dates back to Germany in 2005 and an expectant nation is demanding two more victories by the weekend. The task is not impossible by any means, but the path to a third consecutive Confederations Cup title is about to get much steeper. 

Brazil is not the best team in South America. According to the current, rather misleading FIFA rankings, Brazil lags behind four countries in its own Confederation. Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador have all overtaken mighty Brazil; not to mention its tiny neighbour to the south and semifinal contender, Uruguay.

Uruguay represents the Brazilian banana skin. 

Not for the first time, the Uruguayans are threatening to spoil the party. The extensively and expensively restored Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, which will stage Sunday's finale, has revived memories of another era. The iconic arena was the site of Brazil's national football tragedy. Decades later, fans on both sides of the Yaguaron River still talk about Uruguay's sensational 1950 World Cup victory on Brazilian soil.    

In truth, Uruguay has more important things to worry about, qualifying for Brazil 2014 continues to be a struggle for the Copa America champions - a far cry from their unexpected but eye-catching dash to the 2010 World Cup semifinals. Perhaps a successful run at this dress rehearsal is just the tonic Uruguay needs to book a return flight across the border next summer.

Make no mistake; Uruguay can hurt Brazil, even in its own backyard. The triple threat of Luiz Suarez, Edinson Cavani and the veteran maestro Diego Forlan has the ability and the experience to really test what might yet prove a flimsy Brazilian defence. 

At the other end, Uruguay has solid goalkeeping and an enviable reputation for defensive stability. Well organized and physically tough, it remains to be seen whether veteran captain Diego Lugano and company can cope with the pace and talent of Brazil's young guns.

By definition, international football rarely has that 'derby' feel about it. Brazil against Uruguay certainly does and players on both sides recognize it as such. Brazil's goalkeeper, Julio Cesar insists there are "no favourites" going into the semifinal. A little bit of kidology methinks - but he could have a critical part to play.

Brazil, with home advantage, will start as favourite to reach its third straight Confederations Cup Final. The fans are already dreaming of seeing their heroes lift the trophy but the players cannot afford to get ahead of themselves. Staying focused on the present is the only route to the future.

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