CBC Sports - FIFA Confederations Cup

FIFA Confederations CupSpain survives its biggest test

Posted: Friday, June 28, 2013 | 01:30 AM

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Spain's Jesus Navas celebrates after scoring the winning penalty kick against Italy during the semfinal of the Confederations Cup on Thursday Fortaleza, Brazil. (Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press) Spain's Jesus Navas celebrates after scoring the winning penalty kick against Italy during the semfinal of the Confederations Cup on Thursday Fortaleza, Brazil. (Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press)

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Spain is on the verge of greatness. History is waiting to write this team up as the best of all time. But the historians, with facts and stats at their fingertips to validate the claims, must bide their time. Another year should do it.
Good teams find a way to win. Great teams find a way to win championships.

Spain is on the verge of greatness. History is waiting to write this team up as the best of all time. But the historians, with facts and stats at their fingertips to validate the claims, must bide their time. Another year should do it.

The dress rehearsal is going well. Four straight wins at the Confederations Cup is a testament to the continuity of a group of players who have transformed the perception of a national team from talented chokers to expectant winners.

The Spaniards remain the team to beat. But in reaching Sunday's final (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 5:45 p.m. ET) after a thrilling shootout win over Italy Thursday, the world champions have only achieved what was expected in Brazil. Had Spain fallen by the wayside as it did in 2009, the inevitable post mortem would have followed, seeking an answer to a single question: is Spain past its peak?

It is a debate for another day, perhaps another year. In the meantime La Roja is focused on the job at hand -- winning another trophy. The Confederations Cup is the one piece of international silverware missing from Spain's global booty. It is not the most prized treasure on the soccer planet, but it is the next available, and that makes it the most important.

Dramatic semifinal

Spain's absorbing and dramatic semifinal win taught us two things. Firstly, Italy is a pretty formidable opponent. This was a proper game, as far removed from the embarrassing Euro2012 mauling at the hands of Spain as it is possible to get. Mario Balotelli's enforced absence was emphasized time and again as the Italians created, but failed to finish numerous chances.

Secondly, and more significantly, Spain can be rattled. Too many opponents give them too much respect and ultimately get punished for allowing Spain room and time to work its magic triangles. Trying to out-football the Spaniards is a recipe for disaster, so the Italians didn't try.

What Italy did worked like a charm. On a hot and humid late Thursday afternoon, the Italians worked their proverbial socks off to disrupt the Spanish supply line. Always aware of keeping its shape, Italy challenged for every ball -- hurrying and hustling Spain into mistakes.

Turnovers led to Italian possession. The Azzurri were quick on the break -- particularly in the first half, and but for some poor finishing and the experience of Iker Casillas in the Spanish goal, Italy's game plan would have reaped rewards.

Teams settle for extra time

Eventually the conditions had an effect. The game slowed and both teams had virtually settled for extra time long before the 90 minutes elapsed. Spain tried harder to win it without recourse to a shootout, but the lottery of penalties was always in the back of everyone's mind.

I have never been a fan. Everyone knows the rules before a ball is kicked and accepts them for what they are. There is no time for replays in tournament soccer so tiebreakers, via penalty kicks, are always a possibility. They are always nail-biting and they are always cruel on the losers.

Despite the outcome, Italy can hold its head high. It turned up for this World Cup warmup and emerged with great credit. Not only did the Italians stifle the world's best team, they did it cleanly. No repeat of the histrionics we witnessed in the first semifinal; just an honest to goodness toe-to-toe battle between two of soccer's heavyweights.


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Spain survives biggest test yet

Spain survived its biggest test yet. Its lack of a Plan B was stretched to the limit but the philosophy and style lives to fight another day. It held its collective nerve in the shootout with seven perfect penalties, and will draw mental strength from the experience going forward.

From the outset, a Brazil-Spain final was the one most predicted. It's not exactly rocket science in an eight-nation tournament. Brazil, with home advantage and a new generation of brilliant young talent, has resurrected itself among soccer's elite.

Spain has prevailed to take another step on the road toward soccer immortality.

Victory at the iconic Maracana Stadium in Barzil on Sunday will certainly aid the quest.

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