Confederations Cup: 'Stopping Brazil in World Cup will be priority'
A few days before England took on Brazil in the Maracana earlier this month, I was on a local TV show hoping for a bit of luck for Roy Hodgson's men. The Brazilian journalist alongside me said that his team were so bad that they might need some luck as well.
What a difference a month makes! Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari had all his wishes come true in June.
He has won over the crowd all across the country. He has consolidated a team. His own picks down the spine of the side - keeper Julio Cesar, holding midfielder Luiz Gustavo, centre-forward Fred - have had wonderful tournaments.
"In many ways, by winning this competition, it just ratchets up the expectation on Brazil for next year.
"In Spain's very first game of the competition, we described their performance as a master class, but it was definitely roles reversed."
Things could not have gone better for "Big Phil". In fact, as he may secretly be worrying, they might even have gone too well - because history teaches us that therein lies the danger.
Those with long memories will recall the 6-1 thrashing of Spain in the Maracana 63 years ago - a perfect performance, which got the stadium singing and which set the team up for the fall in the next match, when they fell 2-1 to Uruguay and let slip the 1950 World Cup.
A more relevant comparison might be the 4-1 dismantling of Argentina in the final of the 2005 Confederations Cup. Their opponents were under-strength, and physically on their knees after a semi-final that went to extra-time and penalties.
Nevertheless, they took the game to Brazil and played into the hands of the most devastating counter-attack in world football.
The manner of the victory convinced many in Brazil that the 2006 World Cup was as good as won, that all the team had to do was turn up with its so-called magic quartet of attacking talent and Fifa would have to hand over the trophy.
Reality, of course, was very different. Come the real thing, it was soon apparent that that team was top heavy and they were deservedly bundled out of the competition in the quarter-finals.
The 2005 example is pertinent because the 2014 World Cup will not be like the 2013 Confederations Cup final against Spain. Brazil themselves have seen to that.
Now that they have made nonsense of the Fifa rankings and shown the full force of their attacking power, wary opponents will study and seek to neutralise them. Stopping Brazil will be a priority.
Winning the World Cup will be a stiff test forcing Brazil to dig deep into their reserves of patience. Scolari surely knows this.
Many of his countrymen might not. In a land given to extreme reactions, some will see Brazil as unstoppable. A key part of Scolari's task over the next year is to play down the expectations created by his own competence.
This has been Brazil in a state of grace.
Neymar's wonderful two-footed finishes have flown into the corner.
Julio Cesar looks so full of confidence that his sheer presence fills the goal. Against Spain, the midfield marking snapped with intensity.
That magnificent goal-line clearance of David Luiz, perhaps the game's key moment, exemplified a team operating at a rare level of inspiration.
But the World Cup is cruel - as that superb 1950 team knew all too well. Not even a bad game, or a bad half, but a bad 10-minute spell can be enough to end the dream.
How will Brazil react when the early goal does not come? More to the point, how will they react when they go a goal down?
That is always the true test of any team and, though Brazil coped with the situation admirably against England four weeks ago, they managed to avoid this state of affairs once the competitive games began.
With much more at stake, how might they cope when confronted with this challenge in one of next year's knockout rounds?
Brazil are the first team to win three successive Fifa Confederations Cups. France won back-to-back titles in 2001 and 2003.
Scolari will be aware that this will be the supreme test of his undoubted abilities as a group former, as a setter of the emotional tone of the team.
He will also know that, despite his run of wins and the excellence of the performance against Spain, his team have points where they can improve
Problem areas? Spells where their passing can lack fluency. The right side of the attack. The left side of the defence.
The number of fouls that they are committing is also an issue (Spain, for example, were out-fouled 26 to 16). This has its uses - often those who are mostly committing fouls are Neymar and Oscar, reacting to the breakdown of a move by seeking to stop the opposing counter-attack at source.
But it could invite problems with a rigorously-minded referee. Against Italy, for example, Neymar was taken off with more than 20 minutes to go because he was flirting with a red card.
When they click though, they are, like so many Brazil sides of the past, an irresistible force. Even allowing for the fact that Spain were short of top physical condition, it was extraordinary to see their defensive line pierced so often and with such ease.
That individual Brazilian ability can be breathtaking and it underlines one of the key messages of the 2013 Confederations Cup: do not make the mistake of underestimating Brazilian football.
After Sunday, fewer people will be induced to that error - which may leave an extra brow of worry on the well-lined face of Luiz Felipe Scolari.
Comments on the piece in the space provided. Questions on South American football to email@example.com, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag:
Looks like Ecuador's Jefferson Montero is signing with West Ham. What can you tell us about him? Will he be better than our last South American, Wellington Paulista?
I'd love to see this move come off, because Montero is a personal favourite of mine and has been ever since I discovered him as a teenage talent in the Ecuador side that won gold in the 2007 Pan-American Games.
He's right-footed but can play on either flank and he's one of the best around in one against one situations. He glides past his man.
With all the ability he has, he should have achieved more in the game - a spell in Spain didn't really work out, though he's doing well in Mexico and has established himself as an important part of the Ecuador side.
What has held him back is the fact that his delivery could be improved - he needs to choose his options better and also stay calmer at decisive moments. Solve those problems and he's a marvel.
Has the Confederations Cup given us an indication of how the World Cup must adapt to survive? Less teams and a more streamlined format? The World Cup has to become a serious tournament again, instead of a 'carnival/festival' of football, otherwise how can it continue in the age of the 'super club'? The tournament has been a breath of fresh air and probably resembles the World Cup as it once was and could be again.
I know what you mean, but I'm not sure your wish is practical. Now we've got 32 teams in the World Cup it's hard to imagine many being in favour of cutting back. And if that does leave the tournament overblown, then in one way that is an advantage - the coming together of supporters from so many different nationalities.
I'm looking forward to that next year, but I'm also concerned. Public spending on the World Cup is on the frontline of the protest movement.
If there are more protests next year, as seems likely, then throw in 32 teams and hundreds of thousands of travelling fans and it's clear that the resources of the security forces will be stretched.