nilmar-onyewu-2-090627

Nilmar of Brazil battles with American Oguchi Onyewu of USA during their Confederations Cup group match. ((Jamie McDonald/Getty Images) )

And then there were two: Brazil and the United States.

After two weeks of competition, the FIFA Confederations Cup will draw to a close Sunday at Johannesburg's Ellis Park when Brazil, the defending champion, takes on the U.S., the pride of CONCACAF.

These teams met in the first round when the Selecao made easy work of the Americans in a 3-0 win, but the U.S. has switched into high gear since then, earning a spot in the final after upsetting European champion Spain.

Can the upstart Americans pull off another miracle? Or is Brazil destined to retain its crown?

CBC Sports commentators Nigel Reed and Jason de Vos and CBCSports.ca soccer expert John F. Molinaro offer their analyses and predictions below.

Nigel Reed: Here's what we know. An American team will be victorious in Sunday's final — what we don't know is whether North or South America will prevail.

What we should know is that Brazil will tan the United States for the second time in a fortnight, but after what happened in Bloemfontein on Wednesday, the prediction can no longer be made with any degree of certainty.

The swashbuckling Brazilians are where they should be — on course to defend the trophy they lifted in Germany four years ago. The Americans should be out of their depth and merely present to make up the numbers, but I'm beginning to believe the U.S. are beginning to believe this tournament can become a landmark breakthrough for the Stars and Stripes.

Despite the Americans' dream result over Spain, they will again be cast in the role of huge underdogs against a Brazilian team that brushed them aside with ease during the group stages. Coach Dunga's collection of supremely gifted individuals hardly got out of first gear during that 3-0 stroll. I fancy they'll need some extra horsepower to repeat the feat in Johannesburg.

The two semifinals afforded us some clues of what to expect at Ellis Park. The Americans' tremendous work rate was the key to winning their David and Goliath battle against the European champions and was a performance that will garner huge and necessary self-belief throughout Team USA.

Brazil certainly had to earn their ticket to the final. South Africa pushed them all the way on Thursday night, succumbing only to an unstoppable Daniel Alves free kick in the dying minutes. The hosts were genuinely unlucky not to score at least one, and the South Americans can consider themselves warned about the perils of underestimating an opponent.

For many reasons, not the least of which would be for the good of North American soccer in general, I would like to see the U. S. triumph, but my head tells me it cannot happen. I have a nasty feeling Bob Bradley's team reached their zenith against Spain and will play second fiddle in the finale.

Brazil saved their best till last when destroying Argentina in Germany in 2005 and, though I believe this rematch with the Americans will be closer than the first meeting, Brazil still has the edge when it comes to the business end of tournament soccer.

Prediction: Brazil wins 2-0

Jason de Vos: If you consider the FIFA world rankings to be a factor when predicting the outcome of matches, it would be difficult to opt for a score line that didn't favour Brazil, in any match. The champions of South America, currently ranked  No. 5 in the world, have been at the forefront of world football for what seems like an eternity. There are very few teams in the world that can claim to have a better pedigree.

The United States faces off against Brazil in Sunday's final, and logic dictates that the South Americans will walk away with the trophy. The U.S. has only beaten Brazil once before, in 1998, and despite the Americans' shock upset over No. 1 ranked Spain, there is little evidence to suggest another upset is looming.

The U.S., No. 14 in the FIFA rankings, was comfortably beaten in the group stage by both Italy and Brazil. To their credit, they produced a storming performance against Egypt in their final group game to catapult themselves from last place to runners-up, thanks to Italy's demise against Brazil.

altidore-lucio-090627

American Jozy Altidore battles with Brazil's Lucio. ((Jamie McDonald/Getty Images) )

Going into the semifinal, despite that performance, there was little indication that the U.S. would be the team to end Spain's record-setting 15-game winning streak. The Spanish dominated possession against the Americans and had the bulk of the scoring chances, yet they were unable to get the ball past Tim Howard in the U.S. goal, eventually succumbing 2-0. 

U.S. head coach Bob Bradley said before that game that they needed to have a good game plan and get full commitment from the players. That is exactly what he received, and I feel he will need much more of the same if the Americans are to harbour any hope of recording their second ever victory over the Brazilians. Bradley will need strong performances from all of his players, but there are a few who will have especially important roles to play. 

Tim Howard will be the busier of the two keepers on Sunday, and he will have to stand on his head, as we like to say. In front of him, the central defensive partnership of Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit will be very busy trying to contain Luis Fabiano, Robinho and Kaka, to name a few. 

At the other end of the park, both Landon Donovan and Jozy Altidore will have to retain possession whenever they get the ball. Defending for 90 minutes is very tiring, and the U.S. will be drained from their exertions against the Spanish. The ability of the front men to retain the ball will give the defenders a much-needed respite against the stylish South Americans.

The U.S. will need a fair bit of luck to claim their first-ever major international trophy in a men's final, but they can also help themselves along the way. Donovan and Altidore will need surgical precision in front of goal in order to find the back of the net, because I don't think there will be chances aplenty for the Americans.

If all goes according to plan, the U.S. can beat the Brazilians. They have shown that they are capable of competing with and beating the best. Unfortunately, I just don't see it happening.

Brazil is simply too good for the U.S. The Brazilians toyed with the Americans in the group stage, which looked like men against boys. I don't expect the final to be as one-sided as Brazil's 3-0 win a week ago, but I still expect the Samba Kings to be celebrating on Sunday night.

Prediction: Brazil wins 2-1

John F. Molinaro: Kudos have to be given to the Americans for getting this far.

I don't think many pundits, if any, thought they stood a chance against Spain, but the U.S. proved it can more than hold its own with the game's elite and rise to the occasion when called upon.

That being said, Team USA is going to lose to Brazil.

For starters, the U.S. has several factors working against it: 1) it suffered a 3-0 pasting at the hands of the Selecao in the first round; 2) it will be missing influential midfielder Michael Bradley through suspension; and 3) it's only defeated Brazil once in international play, and that was 11 years ago.

The central defensive pairing of Onyewu and DeMerit had the game of their lives against Spain, effectively shutting down Fernando Torres and David Villa.

But they're going to have their hands full with Brazil's attacking trio of Fabiano, Kaka and Robinho, and there's no way they'll be able to stem the tide of the Brazilian attack that will continually crash on the shores of their penalty area.

Fabiano, Kaka and Robinho will lay siege to the American defence, making their outing against Spain look like a picnic. Onyewu and DeMerit will be in for a long evening, and I don't think they're up for it.

What this comes down to is general quality, and Brazil has it in abundance at every position, including the unheralded Julio Cesar who, for my money, is one of the best goalkeepers in the world. It says something about Brazil's depth that coach Dunga has benched Alves, one of the best right-backs in the world, and gone with Maicon the last two games.

Simply put, Brazil is too powerful for the U.S., and lightning won't strike twice for the Americans.

Prediction: Brazil wins 2-0