Spain v Tahiti: Preview
The Maracana will stage its second World Cup final on July 13, 2014, to become only the second stadium, after Mexico City's Azteca, to host two such showpieces. Thursday could see it host the greatest mismatch in international football competition.
The champion of Europe -- twice over -- and the world take on Tahiti, the Oceanic champion with a single professional player. The type of scoreline expected in a one-sided rugby match is widely expected.
What's on the line?
Spain's performance against Uruguay was the strongest so far of the tournament, a statement of their intent to add the Confederations Cup to a trophy cabinet that expanded Tuesday when the under-21 team won the European Championship in Israel.
In many ways, this is a no-win game for Spain, in the sense that anything less than a 10-1 thrashing -- the type that Hungary handed out to El Salvador at the 1982 World Cup -- would be something of an underachievement. And conceding one would be something of an embarrassment. But Vicente del Bosque, in his patrician way, will not be so ambitious. A bloodless win with no injuries is his aim.
The Tahitian target, clearly, is to avoid public shame, and perhaps show improvement from their opening match. Tahiti's defeat at the hands of Nigeria was almost cruel; the goals conceded were either comedic or silken. When Jonathan Tehau scored, it was their moment to be savoured, but it felt almost patronizing to enjoy it with them.
It has been mentioned that their 2012 OFC Nations Cup win was secured at the expense of New Zealand, the only team that escaped the 2010 World Cup unbeaten (0-0-3).
Spain, of course, did not, losing to Switzerland in their opening match in South Africa. However, the All Whites were never actually vanquished, because their conquerors, New Caledonia, were Tahiti's victims in the final. So that ends that as any kind of omen.
Style and tactics:
Spain could play in the style of John Beck's Cambridge United and expect to win this game by a street. However, Del Bosque is not one for frippery. There is a slight possibility he may choose to play just three at the back and use someone such as Sergio Busquets as a libero in front of the defence, as he did against Belarus in September in a World Cup qualifier. That move was a result of an injury to Gerard Pique, but it is becoming a regularly chosen formation for giant against minnow. Del Bosque is expected to play his second-stringers, too, so a new-look defence will be in order.
Defend, defend, defend, and be damned. Attack, attack, attack and be destroyed. These are the options for Tahiti manager Eddy Etaeta. He might be working on plans to find a goal even more iconic than Tehau's against Nigeria. Etaeta has admitted that Spain will have 98 percent possession against his team. It would be no surprise if a 7-2-0 formation were employed, though it would be a shame. It will not work, either.
Players to watch:
The suggestions are that the big names will be rested. That should mean an outing for Javi Martinez, who could even fulfill the aforementioned libero role that Busquets might fill. What a reserve to have, anyway. Roberto Soldado will want to keep his place and fill his boots after his goal against Uruguay, but Fernando Torres and David Villa will be champing at the bit, too.
Tahiti's defending certainly will have to improve from the levels shown against Nigeria. Nicholas Vallar will not want to reprise his own goal, and Xavier Samin, if selected, will hope to put up a far better goalkeeping performance. Marama Vahirua, the sole professional, cut a lonely and very disgruntled figure in Belo Horizonte as he failed to control or be anywhere near the desperate clearances of his teammates. He can expect more of the same here.
What can we expect?
One-way traffic of a type rarely seen in such a high-profile game. If Spain do not beat the Confederations Cup record scoreline of Brazil defeating Saudi Arabia 8-2 from 1999, it might not be too surprising, because they hardly have been the most free-scoring team of the ages. They might instead attempt some kind of record at possession percentage. Anything below 90 percent would be a disappointment; 98 percent might be the target.
What a stupid question.