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Confederations Cup Final preview

It’s the Confederations Cup Final just about every neutral wanted to see: Spain v Brazil. The current Euro and World champions against the five-times World Cup winners. Europe v South America. Iniesta v Neymar.

It is one of football’s stranger facts that these two sides haven’t met in a match that matters since the 1986 World Cup and not at all since a friendly 14 years ago. But with Brazil unbeaten competitively at home since 1975 and Spain currently on an unbeaten run, home or away, of 29 in tournament football, something’s gotta give at the Maracana Stadium tomorrow night (live on BBC1 10.25pm).

Coral make Spain marginal favourites at 8/5 with Brazil 17/10 and the draw 9/4. It’s easy to see this going all the way, perhaps even to penalties, in which case Spain will fancy their chances, having won their last three Cup shoot-outs (most recently with a flawless display of spot-kicking against Italy in Thursday’s semi-final). Brazil, on the other hand, incredibly failed to find the net at all the last time they were involved in a penalty shoot-out.

Spain were well below their normal high standard against Italy and were fortunate to be still in the game when finally getting their act together into the second half. It was no coincidence that their improved display coincided with the introduction of Manchester City’s new winger, Jesus Navas, who gave La Roja a Plan B when their familiar and normally effective tiki-taka style of play came up against an Azzurri brick wall.

In the end it was all quite gung-ho for Spain – and refreshingly different –  with the best chances falling to defenders Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba, barnstorming upfield. The extremely nimble and nippy Navas was himself a goal threat after being brought on for David Silva and Coral’s 16/1 that he scores first or last tomorrow (and 6/1 that he scores at any time) catches the eye.

It was uncomfortably hot in Belo Horizonte and Spain will surely not be so lethargic on such a wonderful occasion. Brazil, however, will be very much ‘at it’ themselves, not only eager to show their demanding fans that they are a match for the best ahead of the 2014 World Cup, but also as a kind of message of support for the protesters, sure to be making their presence felt again outside the stadium.

This is Neymar’s stage and it would be no surprise to see Brazil’s new superstar rise to the occasion. Coral make him 6/1 to score first (7/4 at any time) and that makes more appeal than the 15/2 (9/4) Hulk, who has failed to find the net in his last nine International appearances.

This promises to be a great game and is so hard to call, but if it is to be decided within 90 minutes, then Spain to win 2-1 (10/1 with Coral) doesn’t look a bad shout.

Written by Jon Freeman