May 30, 2012; Landover, MD, USA; Brazil forward Neymar (11) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal on a penalty kick against the USA in the first half at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Confederations Cup 2013: Semifinals Preview

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A week of Confederations Cup action in the can has served to surgically remove the lesser halves in this tournament. In terms of countries left standing, I was right with the exception of Italy sliding into the semi-finals over Mexico because of a 78th minute deciding goal from Mario Balotelli during opening weekend that dropped Mexico 2-1 (both teams went on to have parallel runs—losing to Brazil and beating Japan).

It’s down to the elites: Spain, Brazil, Uruguay, and Italy.

Uruguay and Brazil face off Wednesday afternoon, but with a dark political cloud threatening the proceedings. The semi-final itself has been in jeopardy because of a mass rally planned outside of Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte. It’s expected to attract over 100,000 protestors, according to local police warnings. Six-thousand local cops are on standby, as well as 1,500 federal guards.

Protests deride FIFA and the Brazilian government for investing infrastructure into World Cup stadiums, footing the populous at-large with chunks of the bill, hiking public transportation rates, and not using that money toward day-to-day perils like education. As of 11 a.m. Eastern, the game is green lit and ESPN’s Ian Darke just tweeted, “Brazil v Uruguay live on ESPN in USA from 2.30ET today from semis of Confed Cup. On call with Stewart Robson.”

This tournament has been a by-the-brackets affair—Spain is overwhelming, Italy and Uruguay are led by strikers on fire, and Brazil is the blossoming flower ready to unleash its next great generation on a major world stage. Meanwhile, Nigeria, Japan, and Mexico proved to be also ran registrants from weak conferences; little Tahiti—half the size of Rhode Island—was outscored 24-1 in three games.

With the fat off the bone, the competition gets good. The most compelling questions heading into the semi-finals and next year’s World Cup for these squads are as follows:

- Can Italy become great again now that their project of emerging as a fluid, attacking team is bearing fruit?
- Is Neymar a strong enough leader to move from YouTube phenom to team leader?
- Can Uruguay sustain its elite status with basically three weathered and elite players?
- Who will give Spain a challenge?

Brazil and Uruguay should be the more competitive game: Proud vets against the surging youngsters, with the backdrop of a country that never got over 1950. In the ’50 World Cup, Uruguay stunned Brazil in front of 200,000 Brazilians with a 2-1 comeback win in the title game and it’s kind of a big deal down there.

Uruguay plays Brazil tough and close. Though the aging team is struggling in CONMEBOL qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, they’re considered a top-of-the-line prize fighter and are the defending South American Copa America champs. It’d be great to see a heroic stand from Uruguay leader Diego Forlan, but it will be a Brazil, two-goal deconstruction. On Thursday, look for Italy to hang in there but, like their 4-goal loss in the 2012 Euro final to Spain, get caught with the back screen door open and picked apart by two goals as well.

Predictions: Brazil over Uruguay, 4-2; Spain over Italy, 3-1.

Tags: Brazil Soccer Confederations Cup Italy Soccer Spain Soccer Uruguay Soccer

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