Spain to reign in Brazil
Matt Briggs looks ahead to this month's Confederations Cup and is backing Spain to emerge triumphant.
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Brazil's dress rehearsal for next summer's World Cup gets underway on Saturday and this month's Confederations Cup winner might just give us a hint as to the outcome of the main event next summer.
Two of the World Cup's likely protagonists, Brazil and Spain, will be in action in the next two weeks and it's hard to look beyond the heavyweight pair for Confederations Cup glory.
The hosts Brazil boast a 29-year unbeaten home record against European opposition, but their recent showings have been far from impressive. They cruised past France 3-0 last time out, but before that had managed just one win in their previous six games including a 2-2 draw with England.
That display was bang average against an England side that could and probably should have ended the hosts' proud home boast against European opposition.
Only a late Paulinho strike denied Roy Hodgson's plodders a famous victory, but rather than a night which promised a display of attacking intent, it was an evening which exposed Brazil's defensive fragility.
A decent second-half showing from England put the hosts on the rack and while they were marginally better against Les Bleus, the recent 3-0 win was more a reflection on France's abysmal form than Brazil's brilliance.
The French are struggling to find a team worthy of the one they had in the late 1990s and have failed to keep a clean sheet in nine games - their worst record in 21 years. With all this in mind it's hard to get stuck into Brazil, the 6/4 tournament favourites, and Spain get my vote.
Vincente Del Bosque's men, who recorded a routine 2-0 friendly win over the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday, can be backed at 7/4 to win this summer's tournament and 11/2 for World Cup glory next summer - although don't expect the 11/2 to last if Spain do the business this month.
On a 22-game unbeaten run there's no mistake they have all the credentials to claim glory this month and if they do the money will come for them to break the mould next year and become the first European team to win the World Cup in South America.
Their keep-ball, passing style should be perfect for the heat of Brazil and is likely to sap the strength of their Group B rivals, Uruguay, Tahiti and Nigeria and also their opponents at the World Cup finals next year.
Uruguay have a plethora of attacking talent and it was one of those stars Edinson Cavani who grabbed the winner as the Copa America holders got their World Cup qualifying campaign back on track with a 1-0 win over Venezuela on Wednesday.
They had taken only two points from their previous six matches before that success and will surely find a at least a couple of teams too strong from them in Brazil.
Nigeria and Tahiti make up the rest of the group, with the former 40/1 shots, and they will have to upset the form book if they are to taste glory in Rio. And I must admit all I know about the beautiful island of Tahiti is that it's part of French Polynesia and rather an expensive place to backpack - or it was when I visited 10 years ago!
Group A sees Brazil pitted with Mexico, Japan and Italy and although it looks more competitive there is nobody there that will scare the current and world and European champions.
Italy, who conceded two late goals to draw 2-2 with minnows Haiti on Tuesday, should be difficult to beat, but might struggle to get out of the group with Mexico - inspired by Javier Hernandez - likely to provide stiff opposition.
Japan, bar tournament rags Tahiti, are the outsiders and will be happy just to make sure they finish the group stage with a point or two.
It all points to a predictable Brazil-Spain final (11/4) and if that proves true it will be only the third meeting between the sides since 1990. Something will have to give though, and it might just be the end of the Selecao's proud home record.