Preview: Brazil and Spain in juicy Confederations Cup final

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It may be just a warmup to the World Cup, but with silverware on the line things always heat up.  Hot it will be at 6pm ET when Brazil take on Spain in the final of the Confederations Cup.

Brazil will look to take a few steps forward in front of their home crowd in preparation for the World Cup, and manager Luiz Felipe Scolari knows the home field advantage inside the Maracana will be important.

So much so, that Scolari has called upon his team to use their “soul” to “overcome, equalize and pass ahead of all of it [Spain] have.”

“They have had continuity in their team in the last six years, only changing just one or two players every now and then” said Scolari.  “So they have some advantages over us, but we have something that is important inside Brazil and that is to get the credibility back with all our supporters.”

For Brazil, this match is about the beginning of redemption.  Their manager chose his words well when he said the team is looking to regain credibility.  Having fallen well short of expectations in two consecutive World Cups, the Seleção can regain the confidence of their fans with a win against the world’s highest-ranked country.

The Brazilians know it’s no World Cup, but with one on the way in their backyard, a win in this final could provide the keystone to reconstructing the bridge to World glory.

Neymar will be looking to get back on the score sheet, having netted in all three group matches but failed to find a score in the semifinal win over Uruguay.  Brazil weren’t at their best in that match, but the build-up play was just enough. They’ll need him, as the Spaniards have conceded just a single goal so far in the tournament.

For Spain, this match is all about pride.  They don’t need the silverware, they don’t need the media attention, and they certainly don’t need the praise.

What they don’t need is a loss.

While defeat wouldn’t really hurt them that much, a win would maintain the status quo, while a loss would break it down a bit.  They came close in their semifinal with Italy, absorbing much pressure until deciding to rev the engine in extra time.  They advanced on penalties, but it wasn’t pretty.

In addition, Italy taking Spain to extra time and penalties gives an immediate advantage to Brazil. The hosts already had a day of extra rest before the big game, and now they’ve played 30 fewer minutes and had to endure 1 less nerve-wracking penalty shootout.  If Spain show any signs of weakness, this will be the first excuse fans will point towards.

For Spain, Xavi is injured, and reports are that Javi Martinez could come in to replace him. Cesc Fabregas is also reportedly coming into the lineup for Fernando Torres in a false 9 position that quite possibly won them the World Cup three years ago.

With Vincente del Bosque possibly busting out the false 9, it means Spain are certainly not taking this match lightly and are also looking to get into a full-effort mentality.

I think Neymar was right in saying “It’s the match everyone wanted to happen.” With Brazil 2014 just a year away, things are getting serious, and that in turn makes them a whole lot of fun.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.