Brazil's Neymar (Photo: AP)
Five reasons to watch Brazil play Spain on Sunday in the final of the Confederations Cup, a warm-up tournament for next year's World Cup:
The locals love Neymar, and the past few weeks have proven that they are on to something. The 21-year-old Brazil striker with the pseudo Mohawk recently completed a blockbuster move to Barcelona, where next season he will play alongside Lionel Messi and several of the same opponents he and Brazil will face Sunday against Spain in the Confederations Cup final. Neymar entered the World Cup warm-up tournament with a huge amount of expectation, and he has so far lived up to the hype of being the country's football poster boy. He scored in each of the team's three group matches -- all wins -- and played a part in both goals in the semifinal win over Uruguay. More pressure will be on him to perform not just on Sunday, but for the next year as Brazil tries to win its sixth World Cup title in 2014.
The final will be played at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, one of the most famous football venues in the world. Once one of the largest stadiums on the planet, the Maracana hosted the final match of the 1950 World Cup, commonly remembered as a "disaster'' around these parts. In that match, Uruguay beat Brazil 2-1 to win its second world title and leave Brazil still searching for a first. The stadium, which was built more than 50 years ago ahead of that World Cup and is owned by the state government, is officially named Mario Filho Stadium, after a famous Brazilian journalist. It has recently been remodeled and will be used for the final of next year's World Cup. Although Brazil played five of its six matches at the Maracana in 1950, the team will have to make it to next year's final to get back into the iconic venue -- the seventh scheduled match at the stadium and 64th of the tournament.
World champion Spain
Almost any time you watch Spain play football, you're watching the game at its best. After years of underachieving, the Spanish team broke through at the 2008 European Championship. Spain then won the 2010 World Cup and repeated its title at Euro 2012, the first team to win those three major titles in succession. This year, the team looks very similar to the one that has dominated world football, with Xavi Hernandez controlling the midfield and Andres Iniesta driving defenses crazy with his probing runs and pinpoint passes. The team won't have an easy time Sunday against Brazil, a two-time defending Confederations Cup champion that will be playing at home, but if the Spanish play their now-renowned "tiki-taka'' football, they'll be hard to beat.
Brazil playing at home
Brazil invented "O Joga Bonito'' -- what many in the world call "The Beautiful Game'' -- and the country's national team will looking to put that on display in one of its biggest home matches in decades. Ever since Brazil was awarded the right to host the 2014 World Cup six years ago, there has been a huge amount of pressure heaped upon the team to win. And the Confederations Cup final will serve as a big test to see if the young team is ready to unseat the Spanish veterans who have taken over the mantle as the best team in the world by playing "The Beautiful Game'' at its best.
Prepare yourself for the World Cup
The Confederations Cup is designed to give the upcoming World Cup host a chance to test out its progress in organizing such a huge event, to try out six of its stadiums, its airports, its transportation systems. But it can also give fans a chance to get ready for the big event, to get an early sense of what many will be spending the better part of next June watching. Tuning in for Sunday's match -- not a bad match, by the way -- could be the best warmup for next year, when 32 teams will be playing at 12 stadiums around the country to reach the final on July 13, 2014.
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