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Offenses hope to patch-up back lines
The Confederations Cup resumes on Wednesday with two critical Group A clashes. Brazil face a struggling Mexican side at Estádio Plácido Aderaldo Castelo (live, Wednesday, 3 p.m. ET) while Italy take on Japan at Pernambuco Arena (live, Wednesday, 6 p.m. ET).
But the story of this tournament remains off the field. 250,000 Brazilians demonstrated Monday in cities across the nation in the biggest displays of civil unrest here in twenty years. More protests are scheduled to sweep the nation on Tuesday, with civil alerts issued for 21 cities across the nation – and all Confederations Cup games.
The protests began with a seemingly innocuous hike in bus fares in São Paulo, but they have quickly expanded to engulf this nation, and the Confederations Cup has proven to be a flashpoint. Brazil is expected to spend nearly $4billion to host the Confederations Cup and World Cups, a massive amount of money in a country with glaring infrastructure problems and a huge social divide.
So far, FIFA has made no move to call off the games, but have indicated they are keeping a wary eye on a situation that is rapidly coming to a boil.
Luiz Felipe Scolari's Brazil squad will look for three points against struggling Mexico (Photo: Vanderlei Almeida/Getty).
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On the field, Mexico are facing the hosts at exactly the wrong time. They have glaring weaknesses in their back line, and are having grave difficulty scoring goals. Manager Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre is now facing some critical decisions: he must play for a win – but he also must shore up a leaky and chaotic back line that left goalkeeper Joe Corona helpless. Italy pulled Mexico’s entire right side apart, with Gerardo Flores unable to halt the traffic down his flank. That exposed Gerardo Torrado and Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez, and neither man was able to recover.
''I'm sure that Mexico will have to go for the victory and it will definitely be good for us,'' Brazil striker Hulk said Tuesday in a conference. ''We know that they are a team with a lot of quality, but hopefully we can take advantage that they are in a more difficult situation.''
Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez was also ineffective against Italy in open play looks gassed from his difficult season in Manchester United. While Giovani dos Santos was a firecracker in the match against Italy, Hernandez can convert some of his chances if given the correct partnership in attack. If de la Torre fails to partner Hernandez with adequate wing play, it looks like Mexico will rely on set-pieces for their goals.
Brazil’s back line isn’t great, either. Japan showed that you can expose David Luiz and force Thiago Silva to cover more ground than he would like. But Brazil’s spine – particularly the interplay between Neymar and Oscar – was superb in the opener. Even at half-speed, the Brazilians moved the ball with precision through a Japanese side that is hardly shabby, and fully deserved their 3-0 margin of victory.
''It's our obligation to win this match because we know it would make it easier for us to advance,'' Luiz said in Tuesday’s press conference. ''Everybody knows that the final group match against Italy will be more difficult because it's a team with four world titles and with a lot of experienced players. That means that this match against Mexico is really important.''
Expect Brazil-Mexico to be a more physical affair as El Tri try to disrupt what can be some lazy passing on the part of the hosts. Look for Mexico to target Marcelo, who is notoriously hot-headed. But if Neymar shows the same desire in Fortaleza that he did at the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha, this will be a long afternoon for the champions of CONCACAF.
Eight Mexicans from this Confederations Cup squad were in that Olympic team, including dos Santos. Six Brazilians are back with the Selecao, including Neymar, Oscar, Thiago Silva and Hulk.
''That was a very tough loss for us because everybody in Brazil was hopeful that we would finally win the gold medal,'' Hulk said. ''But we also beat them recently when we played with the senior team, and that was a difficult victory because we played a man down for most of the match, so we are optimistic.''
Mario Balotelli shares a laugh with his Italian teammates during Tuesday's training session (Photo: Nelson Almeida/Getty).
Japan face an Italian side that looks determined not to repeat their folly of 2009. Andrea Pirlo put on a transcendent show against Mexico and the Azzurri as a whole are displaying an expansive, attacking style that may make them a favorite for next year’s World Cup. Mario Balotelli is playing with a freedom he rarely showed in Manchester City, and fully deserved his winner last Sunday. If Italy have a weakness, it’s not immediately apparent. Pirlo has been pulling the strings with a grace befitting a symphony conductor, and this team looks powerful and complete.
The Japanese, on the other hand, look tired. On paper, this is a talent-stacked bunch, but in the opener, it was clear that the squad’s European duties have sapped them. Alberto Zaccheroni will do his best to match a team he is intimately familiar with, but unless he gets more out of Shinji Kagawa, Yasuhito Endo and Keisuke Honda, this team will be on an early plane home.
Italy-Japan should be a more technical game. Both teams like to go forward, and Japan likes to keep the ball on the ground. Pirlo will be the start of every attack; how the Japanese forwards try to contain him – effectively playing as a first line of defense – will be a subplot worth following along with Cesare Prandelli's probable tactical switch.
''I could make two, three or four lineup changes,'' Prandelli said. ''We spent a lot against Mexico and I need to see this last training session to see who is fresh.''
Dos Santos and Hector Moreno are carrying cards for Mexico; Balotelli, Andrea Barzagli and Daniele De Rossi are a booking away from suspension. Brazil have no players on a card; Japan’s captain, Makoto Hasebe, picked up the only caution in the opening game.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.