COMMENTARY | The Confederations Cup semifinals are set. On Wednesday, Brazil takes on Uruguay in the first semifinal, a rematch of the 1950 World Cup final. On Thursday, Italy meets Spain in the second semifinal, a rematch of the 2012 European Championships. The final group stage matches were a bit anticlimactic, as all four semifinalists had already secured advancement. Well, technically, Uruguay's place was up for grabs, but a final match against Tahiti did not figure to provide any surprises.
Brazil versus Uruguay promises to be a passionate affair, as all of Brazil's matches have generated festive atmospheres. All of Brazil's matches have also been marred by protests, and Belo Horizonte will likely have tear gas in the air by the time the match kicks off. Thankfully, the on-field play has not suffered due to the off-field incidents occurring for the duration of the tournament.
On the pitch, Brazil enters the match riding high on Neymar's special skills and fabulous flair. The newest Barcelona signing has three goals in three matches entering Wednesday's semifinal. Neymar was the headlining act entering the 2013 Confederations Cup, and he has performed better than anyone anticipated. For all those who wondered what the fuss was about, Neymar delivered three gorgeous goals to warm up for Wednesday's semifinal. Now, only Uruguay stands in the way of a final at the famed Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
After a harsh loss to Spain in the tournament opener, Uruguay manager Oscar Tabaraz attacked Nigeria with all three of Uruguay's famed forwards playing in concert. Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez, and Edinson Cavani were all polished international stars, but the trio was split into separate duos when the national team called. Forlan, the man on the bench for the tournament opener, scored the match winner against Nigeria, and the buildup involved Suarez finding Cavani and Cavani finding Forlan. With all three forwards out of the starting lineup against Tahiti, Uruguay should have a fresh set of goal scorers ready to go against Brazil.
Attempting to slow down Uruguay's attacking triumvirate, Brazil's defense underwent a minor makeover last time out. Against Italy, Chelsea's David Luiz came off due to a thigh injury, and Bayern Munich central defender Dante stepped in to jostle against the powerful figure of Mario Balotelli. Dante held Balotelli scoreless and also went on to score his first goal for the selecao in Brazil's 4-2 victory over the Azzurri.
In Europe, Dante was pivotal to Bayern's treble during the 2012-13 season. His positional awareness exceeds Luiz's, and Dante is also an exceptional dribbler and aerial combatant. If he does take over for Luiz for the remainder of the tournament, Dante's afro should instantly become a recognizable symbol at the heart of the Brazilian defense.
In other injury news, the softly sung star of Brazil's opening match, Paulinho, sat out Brazil's match against Italy with an ankle knock. Paulinho was essential to Brazil's first two wins in the competition, but if he is unable to play, Hernanes would provide Brazil with an offensive-minded replacement. Obviously, the Lazio man is not nearly as strong in his tackles as Paulinho. With Cavani, Forlan, and Suarez foaming at the mouth, Brazil would prefer to have Paulinho join Luiz Gustavo in breaking up play in the middle of the park.
In the other semifinal, Spain takes on Italy in a rematch of the Euro 2012 final. Italy booked its entry into the Confederations Cup via that 4-0 loss to Spain last summer. Truthfully, that score line was a bit generous to the Spaniards. Jordi Alba's individual pace gave Spain a 2-0 lead moments before halftime. With Italy trailing 2-0, Cesare Prandelli employed all three of his substitutions before the hour mark. Unfortunately, Thiago Motta was one of them, and less than five minutes after coming on, he was stretched off with a hamstring issue. Italy played a man down against Spain for the final half hour of the final.
Italy conceded two late goals to Spanish substitutes, but the match was not as one-sided as the score line indicated. Italy actually managed more possession than Spain in the first half, when both teams were even on numbers. Before Motta was stretchered off, Italy was competitive.
Balotelli secured the spotlight on the pitch last summer, and he has done the same this summer. In Brazil, Balotelli scored important goals in Italy's two group stage victories, and his assist against Brazil was sumptuous. Unfortunately, Italy's No. 9 is an injury concern with a muscle problem in his left leg, and he is not the only hobbled Italian.
Midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo was rested against Brazil due to a calf injury. Italy needs the Juventus playmaker to orchestrate the midfield and neutralize Spain's possession tactics. Also, Daniele De Rossi was suspended against Brazil, so having both Italians back managing the middle of the park is vital to Italy's success.
Riccardo Montolivo, who was recently named captain of AC Milan, is feared to have suffered a concussion. With Milan teammate Ignazio Abate already lost to a dislocated shoulder, the Italians have a thin squad at the moment.
For Spain, a sloppy performance against Nigeria--by Spanish standard--still resulted in a 3-0 victory for the world champs. Spain's quality was undeniable. Barring muscle injuries to Cesc Fabregas and Roberto Soldado, Spain should field the same starting eleven that started the tournament. Fernando Torres may assume Soldado's place in attack, but Soldado's movement was praiseworthy against Nigeria, even if his finishing was lacking. David Silva would likely take over should Fabregas be unavailable.
The Confederations Cup has been an entertaining delight to this point, and with Spain, Brazil, Italy, and Uruguay reaching the final four, this tournament should not relent on the fireworks and excitement.
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
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