Sometimes, we abruptly wake up from a beautiful dream and try impossibly to get back to it. No matter how vivid our imagination may be, it never manages to conjure the same dream.
That is exactly how Sunday’s FIFA Confederations Cup Final will be like.
It is the dream final. It is the final everyone wanted (outside of Italy, Uruguay, Japan, Nigeria, Mexico and Tahiti). It is however the dream final that has come four years late. Or at the least, three.
Football has this tendency to conjure big games. The greatest teams with the greatest players playing head to head. Sometimes, those games are symbolic if not era defining. They define the changing of style, the passing of the baton, the end of an era as well as the beginning of another.
It is what Bayern Munich v Barcelona was in the Champions League semi-final. The rise of one team’s star while the other finally dimmed. It was what France v Brazil symbolised at the World Cup Final in France 1998. Brazil, then the best team in the world was defeated by France, the team that would go on to dominate world football for the coming years at all levels.
Indeed, such examples are many. West Germany v England at the World Cup quarter finals in 1970, or even the confirmation of Benfica’s rise as they defeated Real Madrid in the European Cup final of 1962. These games generally lie upon the fault line of potential history making moments. And that intrigue provides a fitting spectacle.
It is what Brazil v Spain should have been. Years ago, not now.
At the Confederations Cup in South Africa four years ago, the draw conspired to keep South America’s greatest team away from their European counterparts. On the cards was a matchup of epic proportions. A final between Spain and Brazil would have been grand, if only the USA had not conspired to defeat La Furia Roja in the semis.
A year later though would have been more fitting. At the World Cup these two world giants should have met, again, in the final. Spain was yet to be world champions and indeed, doubts still lingered as to whether their possession football could last them a whole tournament. Brazil on the other hand was devastatingly brilliant, mixing the flair of Robinho with the vision of Kaka to produce unparalleled counter attacks that were finished off by the consummate Luis Fabiano.
It should have been a great game. Possession v counter attack, and nowhere near in the same reductive manner as what Internazionale had showcased against Barcelona in that season’s Champions League semi-final. Indeed, this was the game that the whole World Cup should have been waiting for. That is until, Brazil capitulated against the Dutch in the quarters and the dream was lost.
Indeed, it is magical to think what may have happened if these teams had met then. Would Brazil have managed a win and then dominate world football in the same manner Spain do at the moment? Or would Spain, as they have since then, showed their superiority and left all doubters speechless?
We will never know. And now, as the Confederations Cup final brings us Brazil v Spain, it is just not the same as it would have been years ago.
Brazil is rebuilding. They are in that phase where they are discovering what the talents of Neymar and Oscar can deliver on the grand stage. They are nowhere near the finished article, but they have really impressed in the tournament so far and have shown that in a year’s time, this will be a team to reckon with.
Spain on the other hand has been assuring. Bar the tactical dilemma that Nigeria and Italy brought upon them (partly as a result of the tactical dilemma brought about by Xabi Alonso’s injury), Spain have still had the firepower to change things round. Importantly for them, their bench is much stronger than it ever has been in their period of dominance. They just have enough to change things round to prevent any imminent destruction.
Be it the new dimension Jordi Alba gives them, or the fact that Jesus Navas can be called on to provide width to an otherwise narrow attack, Spain seem perfectly balanced. As such, they have only conceded one goal thus far – an incredible consolation free kick by Luis Suarez in the opening game against Uruguay.
By defeating Italy on penalties in the semis, they also showed that mettle strength that they possess. The ability to win the game mentally, and the emotional quality to go through it. It is this that sets them apart and ensures they keep setting any doubts aside. All they do is win.
That means that they will be favourites come Sunday at the Maracana. However, the Maracana crowd will do a lot to mitigate that. So too will the prestige and history of that stadium. The intrigue surrounding that venue means that Brazil will be hoping to dispel the hurt of Maracanazo. An event of 63 years ago will define the narrative for them.
This however will also not be the same. It is the Maracana in 2014 that Brazil hope they reach and clinch the trophy that matters most. That will also do most to finally bury the demons of 1950.
It will however be an exciting final nonetheless. Brazil v Spain at the Maracana is what many dreamed of. But Brazil v Spain in Johannesburg would have been better. We can only hope that Brazil v Spain mirrors itself again in 12 months time.
Then, maybe, the dream final will not be subject to the realities of time.