Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Spain and Barcelona Face Tough Decision

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Spain and Barcelona Face Tough Decision

Article excerpt

Just like Bayern Munich did to Barcelona in the Champions League, Brazil destroyed Spain's style in the Confederations Cup final.

Where does what happened at the Maracana leave the world order of soccer? Brazil's physicality, its youth and its fervor wiped out Spain almost as brutally as Bayern Munich did when it destroyed Barcelona in the Champions League earlier this year.

The two are inextricable. Spain has been Barcelona in a different colored shirt these past four momentous years, with the same core players passing and moving in their beloved tiki-taka style.

Bayern showed in the spring that if a team is quick to the ball and quicker into the tackles, it can cut off the possession that is the style's oxygen. Brazil showed the same thing on Sunday in its 3- 0 victory, and Italy came darn near to showing that last week in its semifinal with the Spanish.

It isn't necessarily anti-soccer, although the 26 fouls that Brazil committed in shutting down Spain were certainly Luiz Felipe Scolari's stamp of making the Beautiful Game into something more practical. "Big Phil" acknowledged during this Confederations Cup that he has deficiencies in this crop of Brazilians, but he also has a year to convert them into winners.

The conversion looks to be ahead of schedule. See how Fred and Hulk, nominally strikers, work for the team. Witness Neymar augmenting his genius with attempted tackles that go near the bone. Watch Oscar, with the choir-boy looks, scuffle to get underneath the feet of Xavi Hernandez or Andres Iniesta.

Those are, or were, the architects of tiki-taka. Losing one game, albeit by a 3-0 score, which hasn't happened to Spain since 1985, is not exactly the end of their world. Losing to a Brazil team that was fired up by unrest in the streets and by astonishing partisanship in the stadium does not diminish all that Xavi and Iniesta have achieved.

Their game is based on love of the ball, and it is hard to exhibit love when almost nobody in the audience loves you. Brazil's togetherness -- home team and home crowd -- took the breath away when 70,000 voices, including those of the players, sang the national anthem at full volume while the music was turned down.

It rarely gets more intimidating than this, not even when New Zealand's All Blacks go through their haka routine right in the faces of their rugby opponents.

Two things have to happen to make a contest in such an atmosphere: The home side must be inspired by it, and the visiting team must not be cowed.

Maybe Spain got off on the wrong foot from the moment that Fred, though sprawled on the turf, hooked in the opening goal after barely 90 seconds.

Maybe Spain was pre-empted by the thousand extra miles that it had to travel -- and by the one fewer day it had to recover -- after its extra-time and penalty shootout marathon against Italy up in Fortaleza last Thursday. …

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