RIO DE JANEIRO: Spain go into Sunday’s Confederations Cup final against Brazil unbeaten in 29 competitive games stretching back to the 2010 World Cup, but they face a stiff test at the Maracana against the improving hosts.
The showdown will either give Vicente Del Bosque’s men from Spain an unprecedented fourth straight tournament win or see Brazil carry off the Cup for the third time in a row.
Del Bosque suggested Brazil were seen as the underdogs for the final despite being on home soil.
“It is normal for the fans to side with the weaker (team),” said Del Bosque mischievously.
“They see us as a threat.”
His World Cup winners have had a day less to prepare as they look to win the competition for the first time. They had to go to extra-time and penalties to wrestle Italy out of their way in the semi-finals.
On top of that, they have travelled some 22,000 km and spent 30 hours in a plane since leaving home: first to play friendlies against Haiti and Ireland in the United States; then at different stadiums in Brazil on their road to the final.
But Del Bosque is not looking for excuses as his superstars take on a Brazil side boasting 74 wins in 104 matches played to date at the formidable Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.
“We are not complaining about having a day’s less rest,” he insisted. “I believe my players are prepared for the final as they are in great shape.
“I think we are having a great Cup after a long season,” said the former Real Madrid boss.
Spain have won praise from Brazil for providing their own version of the “jogo bonito” or beautiful game over the past five years.
Their midfield star Xavi insisted Spain would not change their style when they go up against the original model on Sunday.
“Spain’s (playing) philosophy is clear and we have been successful with it,” the Barcelona star declared.
“In other words, to enjoy possession and dominate the match.
“Brazil is the most successful team in the history of football so it will be a special evening with both sides on form.
“I think we are pretty even,” added Xavi, stressing that Brazil boss and 2002 World Cup winner Luiz Felipe Scolari “is very strong on tactics”.
Spain’s veteran goalkeeper Iker Casillas said the match pits “the best teams on their respective continents” against each other, facing off in their first competitive meeting in 27 years.
“I think it should be a great final. I think Neymar is a great player but they have other quality players too, several with European experience,” Casillas said.
Scolari dismissed the notion that Spain were favourites.
“In the last six years they have imposed themselves and won so many titles fielding virtually the same team and so that can maybe be an advantage,” he said on the eve of the final.
“But we have something important in Brazil — our desire to re-establish credibility with our fans.
“We have been dreaming since the start of getting to the final and winning it.”
Asked if his team had managed to answer their many domestic critics, including Pele, who said before the tournament that the current Brazil squad is not good enough to beat the best, Scolari said he believed by and large they had.
“I believe our national team environment has improved a lot from before we got together prior to the event. It is not easy to be together for 30 days.”