Just as Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund announced the emergence of the Bundesliga as the pre-eminent force in European club football last season with their destruction of the pride of Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid in the Champions League, so Brazil have put a question mark against the Spanish national team and its ability to continue to reign supreme.
In their 3-0 Confederations Cup defeat to Brazil, world and European champions Spain looked incredibly vulnerable, not dissimilar to the manner in which Barca and Madrid capitulated in those semi-final hammerings last April. At the Confederations Cup, Spain were much praised for the clean sheets they kept en route to the final, but I felt they rode their luck and, when it came to the crunch, players at the back like Pique and Arbeloa were exposed by the Brazilians, who swarmed all over them. Pique, the former Manchester United layer, is a very good footballer. But his lack of pace was evident as the Samba strikers, Fred in particular, ran riot. Iker Casillas, the Real Madrid captain who was controversially axed by Jose Mourinho last season, has been one of the best keepers in the business for many years but he looks to me like he is losing his powers. Casillas was widely criticised for Brazil’s third goal, but I felt he was at fault for the first two also. It may be premature to say Spain are in decline, but there are signs that the supremacy they have exerted over the past four years is under threat.
Brazil, on the other hand, may be starting to emerge as contenders when the World Cup is staged on their soil next summer. I was not impressed with them when England got a 2-2 draw in the Maracana early this summer, when I felt their lowly 17th place FIFA world ranking looked justified. But they will rocket up the rankings after the Confederations Cup victory which has given them a massive boost looking ahead to 2014. In left-back Marcello they have a near-superhuman player, a man who combined the roles of defender, midfielder and forward in a display that suggested he might have three lungs! Neymar, Barcelona’s £50m capture, again caught they eye, not only with his goals but also the brilliant things he did in flashes. He needs to do the things he does in flashes a lot more often. This is by no means a Brazil team to stand comparison with the great sides of the past 50 years, but it is a team that is improving. A notable aspect of Brazil’s win last weekend was the way they dominated Spain physically. It has long been a misconception that the Brazilians are fabulous, but frail, footballers. Nothing could be further from the truth. All of the greats of the past, like Pele, Zagallo, Socrates, Gerson, Garrincha, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho were men who could look after themselves on the pitch. The current team can play – and they can “put themselves about a bit,” too!