COMMENTARY | After two days, three teams have turned up in Brazil to give life to the tournament. Spain, Italy, and Brazil each won their respective 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup openers, and all three teams did so playing their own unique brands of the beautiful game.
Brazil opened the tournament with a bang. Neymar scored the fourth fastest goal in Confederations Cup history. Fred controlled a ball off the shoulder, and Neymar hit it from just outside the box and into the top right corner with a fantastic display of technique. Immediately, the pressure evaporated, and all that remained was a crowd full of samba-dancing Brazilians.
With a 3-0 victory over Japan, Brazil silenced critics. Neymar offered an early moment of brilliance, Oscar provided a brilliant assist and created chances throughout, and the defense was steady in front of Julio Cesar. However, the most impressive aspect of Brazil's performance against Japan was the central midfield play of Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho.
Gustavo was a steady defensive-minded midfielder who was relegated to backup duties at Bayern Munich due to Javi Martinez's record transfer to the club. Two seasons ago, however, Gustavo was integral to Bayern's dominance in Europe. He started eight of Bayern's Champions League matches en route to the final, and he only missed out on the loss to Chelsea in the final due to yellow card accumulation.
Gustavo was a sound and steady choice to play in front of the defense for manager Luiz Felipe Scolari. Further, Gustavo's extended time on the bench with his club presumably preserved his legs for international duty with his country.
Against Japan, Paulinho impressed in an entirely different manner. He started deep, jogged forward, broke up play, filled gaps, won headers, played deft touches, and hammered in a goal. He exemplified the box-to-box midfielder, and his performance on Saturday was special. Already, Europe is ringing the phone, and that phone may not stop ringing if he continues to boss the upcoming group stage matches against Mexico and Italy.
On Sunday, Italy and Spain--Europe's representatives at the Confederations Cup--emphatically announced their presence.
First, Italy opened scoring on the day via midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo calmly caressing a free kick into the back of the net. After Giovani dos Santos earned a penalty to level for Mexico, Mario Balotelli emerged through a crowd of green shirts to remind the world that there is such a thing as a black Italian, and Italy should be thankful for that fact.
Spain wrapped up the weekend with a world class performance that was so impressive and one-sided that it bordered on boring. Although Uruguay may not be at the same level as two or three years ago, Spain controlled proceedings from the opening kick. For the first eight minutes, Spain held possession for 92 percent of the time. Ultimately, Spain only finished with 71 percent of possession, and the match resembled a training exercise more than it did an international competitive fixture. The final 2-1 score line was extremely generous to Uruguay, but Luis Suarez's free kick topped Pirlo's, so it deservedly earned a tally on the score sheet.
With his squad selection, Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque made a strong statement to the world: the best football is in Spain and nowhere else. All 11 of his starters play their professional football domestically. Whether deliberate or not, Del Bosque benched all nine Spanish exports in the squad: Fernando Torres (Chelsea), Juan Mata (Chelsea), David Silva (Manchester City), Santi Cazorla (Arsenal), Pepe Reina (Liverpool), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal) Javi Martinez (Bayern Munich) and Jesus Navas (Manchester City).
With Cesc Fabregas and Roberto Soldado starring on Sunday, Del Bosque has no cause to alter his squad going forward. Also, Iker Casillas started in goal, so "Saint Iker" should retain his place for the remainder of the group stage and beyond.
With the contrasting styles and personalities of Spain, Brazil, and Italy, the 2013 Confederations Cup promises to provide a taste of the quality expected at next year's FIFA World Cup. After one go-around, Spain remains at the top of the heap. However, Balotelli and Italy look to lessen the gap, and Neymar and Brazil aim to continue building confidence within the team and throughout the country.
The next round of group stage matches resume on Wednesday, Jun. 19 with Brazil hosting Mexico and Italy tackling Japan. On Thursday, Jun. 20, Spain takes on Tahiti, and "#PrayforTahiti" should be trending worldwide.
Shahan Ahmed is a Yahoo! Contributor in Sports. He is Director of European Football and Chief Editor for AccuScore, and he is providing Yahoo! regular 2013 Confederations Cup coverage for the duration of the tournament. You can interact with Shahan on Twitter @ShahanLA
- Sports & Recreation
- Luiz Gustavo
- Bayern Munich