x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Dress rehearsal went well, but that is all it was

Brazil celebrated their Confederations Cup triumph with gusto, tears and an on-pitch prayer meeting, but one can predict how the teams will fare in the World Cup.

Clint Dempsey, right, and his USA team were impressive in South Africa and are likely to fare well at the World Cup.
Clint Dempsey, right, and his USA team were impressive in South Africa and are likely to fare well at the World Cup.

JOHANNESBURG // The last fortnight has always really been about next year. Brazil may have celebrated their Confederations Cup triumph with gusto, tears and an on-pitch prayer meeting, but lifting the gold trophy means less than what it tells us about their capacity to lift next year's World Cup. They are not, by any means, great. For all the complaints about the pragmatism of their coach, Dunga, there are basic deficiencies in the centre of their defence when dealing with crosses, and the holding midfield duo of Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo look susceptible to opponents running at them.

But there is a pleasing balance about their lop-sided 4-2-3-1. Luis Fabiano has excelled as a goal-scoring leader of the line, and late winners against Egypt and South Africa and the comeback in the final indicate great heart and self-belief. More than that, the way they switched the focus of their attack to hit the USA wide after half-time revealed a tactical intelligence and a versatility; Spain were unable to make a similar adjustment in the semi-final. The European champions may be the better side, but the tournament has opened them to the accusation of being one-dimensional.

It is a good dimension, admittedly, and would be even better if Andres Iniesta and Marcos Senna were fit. But teams who sit their midfield deep restricted the space for them to pass their way to goal, leaving them frustrated. The preference for Albert Riera over David Silva is an admission of that, offering the option of slinging crosses at Fernando Torres; against the USA, though, the delivery was indifferent and Jay DeMerit was inspired in clearing what crosses did arrive.

After two awful performances and three very good ones, the USA proved they could be awkward opponents, while Egypt were as unpredictable as ever. World champions Italy look stale but then they often do in the build-up to major tournaments. Hosts South Africa showed enough in their defeats to Spain and Brazil to dispel fears they will be humiliated. Off the field, too, there was reason for positivity, the tournament running as smoothly as could have been hoped. You can't prove you can host a World Cup by hosting a Confederations Cup, but you can prove you cannot - and South Africa, for all the fears, did not do that.

jwilson@thenational.ae