Confederations Cup Final: Brazil vs Spain Match Preview

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The 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup final is upon us, with hosts Brazil set to face Spain for the title on Sunday in Rio de Janeiro.

For Brazil, the final will offer the opportunity for a fourth Confederations Cup title, which could serve as a springboard to further success at next summer’s World Cup, also to be held in Brazil.

Spain have never won the Confederations Cup (this is their second appearance in the tournament), but they have won everything else lately. World Cup winners in 2010 and European champions in 2008 and 2012, Spain are currently unrivaled as the best international side in the world.

With such historic success of late, they also rank as one of the best international teams of all time. Will they add another title to their haul this Sunday, or will Brazil claim another Confederations crown?

Keep reading as we break down the match below.

How They Got Here

As hosts, Brazil were drawn into Group A with Japan, Mexico and Italy. Brazil won all three group matches to win Group A with nine points.

Brazil beat Japan, 3-0, in the opener, followed by a 2-0 victory over Mexico. They closed out the group stage with a 4-2 win over group runners-up Italy.

On Wednesday, Brazil defeated Uruguay, 2-1, in the semifinals, with Paulinho heading in the late winner.

Neymar and Fred have scored three goals apiece to lead Brazil, while Jo and Paulinho have scored twice each.

Spain won Group B with a 100-percent record against Uruguay (2-1), Tahiti (10-0) and Nigeria (3-0).

Spain then outlasted Italy in the semifinals, winning a penalty shootout, 7-6, after the match had finished scoreless following 90 minutes of regular time and 30 more of extra time. Jesus Navas converted the decisive penalty.

Fernando Torres scored four goals in the rout of Tahiti and has recorded five in the tournament so far. David Villa scored a hat trick in the match. David Silva and Jordi Alba have scored two goals each at the tournament.

Talking Tactics—Spain

Spain’s strategy is no secret. Manager Vicente Del Bosque’s team relies on a patient passing game to break down opponents. Spain regularly dominate possession in their 4-3-3 formation and win the ball back quickly upon losing it.

At Euro 2012, Del Bosque experimented with a lineup that featured no true strikers. At this tournament, however, he has regularly used a striker. Roberto Soldado started the opener against Uruguay and the group finale against Nigeria, while Torres started against Tahiti and Italy.

Talking Tactics—Brazil

Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari has opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation throughout the tournament, with Fred at the top of the formation and budding superstar Neymar on the left side of the attacking midfield.

In the semifinals, Uruguay stunted Brazil’s attack with high pressing, forcing mistakes and negative passes. But Uruguay’s admirable defending was undone in the first half by a long ball and a bit of skill from Neymar, who set up Fred for the opener. In the second half, Neymar’s corner led to Paulinho’s headed winner.

Prediction

Spain faced a tough test in the semifinal against Italy—and passed narrowly. Perhaps that shouldn’t have been surprising. Even considering Spain’s 4-0 victory over Italy in last summer’s Euro 2012 final, the Azzurri had the advantage of intimate knowledge of Spain’s tactics and strategy, having played the world champions so often in the recent past.

Brazil won’t have that advantage. What’s more, this is a team still building, or to use Cox’s expression, ticking off boxes. The ultimate goal, of course, is winning the World Cup next summer, but the fans and players alike will be passionate about taking the Confederations Cup title on home soil as well.

An upset is possible, of course. Italy proved Thursday that Spain are not quite the invincible side we like to think they are. But Spain do have plenty of experience in major tournament finals, and Brazil are still dealing with issues in the squad, particularly central midfield.

Home-field advantage will play its role, but in the end, Spain should have enough talent and experience to win.

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Winners, Losers of C’s-Nets Blockbuster

Let’s start with the winners in this trade.

Jason Kidd: Jason Kidd is apparently a great head coach. He’s been with the Brooklyn Nets for just a couple weeks and the franchise is already a contender. The trade will provide further veterans around Brooklyn’s new coach, including Kevin Garnett, who was drafted just a year after Kidd. It’s easier to coach veterans, especially guys like Garnett and Paul Pierce, than it is to try to jell talent that’s never won. Kidd isn’t on his own; imagine a Celtics practice with Garnett pushing teammates or a huddle with Pierce helping rally Kidd’s message.

Kevin Garnett: Kevin Garnett will get one more shot at an NBA championship. One of the league’s biggest name superstars of the last nearly two decades, Garnett becomes a valuable piece in the Brooklyn Nets’ effort to contend for a title. Not only is he back in a winning situation, but he’ll continue to earn high dollars. Garnett waived his no-trade clause and the Nets fully guaranteed his $12 million contract owed to him for the 2014-15 season, per Adrian Wojnarowski. Garnett never produced with the Celtics as he did with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but even at 37 years old he still averaged 14.8 points on 49.6 percent shooting and 7.8 rebounds through 68 games. His fire will never go anywhere, and he’s the perfect leader to pair with Coach Kidd, former teammate Paul Pierce and the younger personality of Deron Williams. This trade makes the Nets a legitimate challenge to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference, but it will also be intriguing to watch how Kidd works well with his veteran stars.

Deron Williams: Forget the numbers. Certainly it will help Deron Williams’ statistics being able to initiate the pick-and-roll with Kevin Garnett and drive-and-kick to Paul Pierce. The point guard will thrive in a system coached by Jason Kidd with plenty of weapons. But the true value in the trade for Williams becomes the veteran leads of what Garnett and Pierce will bring. Williams has a competitor’s fire, but he always seemed held back in previous situations. With Garnett and Pierce, Williams should roar as a competitor in a way that Rajon Rondo learned to be. Winning will help to, as the Nets’ turn to contenders will only further the appreciation for what Williams can do.

Paul Pierce: It’s going to be strange to see Paul Pierce out of Celtics green. But remember, this is good for him—really good. The Celtics probably could have returned the same core, but with a healthy Rajon Rondo, and pushed back into the postseason with the hopes of something special happening. Remember, this team is just one full season removed from taking the Miami Heat to seven games. Pieces began to drop off slowly, however, as first Ray Allen left, then Doc Rivers left and it appeared Garnett was set to retire or be traded somewhere else. Where would that have left Pierce? Now, the veteran forward will not have to drown in Celtics losses as he counts down to his retirement. He moves on with Garnett as his teammate to (presumably) go contend for a title with the Nets. He can still score and he still has the desire to defend the other team’s best player. Plus, he will still get paid. The Celtics were likely to use a $5 million buyout option sending Pierce into free agency, but now Pierce will receive the $15.3 million he is owed in 2013-14.

Now let’s look at the losers in this trade.

Rajon Rondo: Rajon Rondo is all by himself. He’s the odd man out after the Celtics have now sent away Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers. The All-Star point guard went down with an ACL injury midseason and he’ll return to a far different environment. When Rondo entered the league as a rookie, the Celtics were a 24-win team in the 2006-07 season. The Big Three of Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen was formed in the following season’s championship run and the Celtics were a playoff team ever since. Now the point guard will likely have to get used to losing again and it may be a few years until Boston is back. Rondo is one of the Celtics’ good contracts at $11.9 million next season and $12.9 million in 2014-15. The Celtics will continue to keep him as the team’s centerpiece, which won’t be a fun role for Rondo moving forward.

Gerald Wallace: It’s not as if Gerald Wallace is going from a parade float in Brooklyn to basketball’s abyss, but the veteran swingman certainly will be missing out on the Nets’ future as contenders. The soon-to-be 31-year-old legs of Gerald Wallace has yet to play a significant role for a contender, and now he’s back to a rebuilding team. Because Wallace is making $10.1 million annually through the next three seasons, his contract matched perfectly for what was needed to make the blockbuster deal happen. Unfortunately for Wallace, he’s a causality.

Celtics Fans: Boston Celtics fans can’t like this deal. Paul Pierce has been the heart of that city’s basketball world for his entire career and watching him go play for the Brooklyn Nets won’t be a fun sight. What’s worse though is the rebuilding period that’s about to occur. The salaries brought in through the trade don’t help the Celtics, so it’s truly a move for the draft picks. But if the Nets are playing contending basketball, those picks aren’t as meaningful. The Celtics’ growth back to contenders could take a long, long time.

Patrice Bergeron’s Injuries Highlight Hockey Players’ Remarkable Toughness

There are few certainties in sports, but one thing that fans can have faith in is the toughness of NHL players.

We are not here to denigrate baseball or basketball players, and we are certainly not going to question the dedication and toughness of NFL players, who go through violent collisions on nearly every play.

But hockey players are off-the-charts tough. We know that they tend to play with pain, but the latest revelations involving Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins are likely to make your head spin.

Bergeron was an ongoing concern throughout the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks. Through the first four games, he scored four goals, including three on the power play. But in Game 5, Bergeron suddenly slowed down in his skating and retreated to the Boston bench in the first period. He tried to give it a go in the second period, but he was unable to play.

Then came the news that he was taken to a Chicago hospital, with rumors that he had an injury to his spleen.

After that game, Bergeron flew home with the Bruins and head coach Claude Julien said that Bergeron would play in the sixth game. He played hard in the Stanley Cup-clinching game for the Blackhawks, but he was not at his best.

Boston fans didn’t know it beforehand, but Bergeron played with a broken rib and torn cartilage. During the sixth game, he also suffered a separated shoulder. It was also revealed that he sustained a small puncture in his lung, which Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe reports was caused by the fractured rib or a nerve-blocking injection.

Bergeron remains in the hospital. He may be near or at the top of the charts when it comes to playing with injuries, but he has plenty of company.

 

In the final series, Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks “got his bell rung” in the fifth game, yet he played effectively and decisively in the sixth game. He scored a goal and made the pass to Bryan Bickell that set up the tying goal with 1:16 to play.

In that same game, Andrew Shaw got hit in the face with a Shawn Thornton slap shot in the first period, which deflected into his jaw. He was down on the ice as if he had been hit with a Joe Frazier left hook. Shaw came back with two sets of stitches—one near his eye and one on his cheek—and was a force throughout the game.

Marian Hossa missed Game 3 and then came back to play the final three games of the series. After the series was over, Hossa revealed that his right foot was numb as a result of a back injury.

Bruins right winger Nathan Horton played with a dislocated left shoulder, which will require surgery.

It’s not just this year’s Stanley Cup Final, either. There are a litany of injury stories that are associated with playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

In the 2010 postseason, Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith was hit in the mouth by the puck in a Western Conference Final game against the San Jose Sharks. He lost seven teeth because of the impact, but he came back to play in the same game.

The Los Angeles Kings had a slew of injuries in this year’s conference finals against the Blackhawks. Mike Richards (concussion) returned to play in the fifth game and score the tying goal that sent the game into overtime. Justin Williams (separated shoulder), Drew Doughty (ankle) and captain Dustin Brown (posterior cruciate knee ligament tear) all played despite their injuries, according to Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times.

Earlier in the playoffs, Francois Beauchemin of the Anaheim Ducks played the team’s first-round series against the Detroit Red Wings with a torn ligament in his right knee. Beauchemin underwent surgery after the series, but he played with the injury for a month, according to The Sporting News.

Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks provided the hockey player’s credo when he was sent tumbling into the boards by Jeff Carter of the Los Angeles Kings in the second period of Game 3 of the conference semifinal series. Couture picked himself up and went into the locker room, but he played the third period and overtime. He scored the game-winning goal for the Sharks in the extra session.

“It’s playoffs. Everyone plays through injuries. The four years I’ve been here, I’ve seen guys play through a lot of injuries,” Couture told David Pollak of the Contra Costa Times. “Stanley Cup is what you’re playing for. Whatever it takes.”

There you have it. Couture identified the sense of commitment that hockey players have when pursuing the NHL’s ultimate prize.

Athletes in other sports may have it as well, but it seems to be universal in hockey players.

What Does Aaron Hernandez’s Release Mean for the Patriots?

The saga around tight end Aaron Hernandez took two major turns on Wednesday morning.

The first was when he was taken into police custody, according to the Massachusetts State Police Department‘s Twitter feed, and as shown on NFL Network on Wednesday morning.

That may be the worst news Hernandez received Wednesday, but it wasn’t the last news to break.

Less than two hours after he was taken into custody, the Patriots announced they have released the tight end from the roster.

The move carries major implications on the Patriots roster.

They have spent the past couple offseasons stockpiling their depth at tight end, so they have options, but there’s no doubt this will impact the roster.

Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells were the primary backups last year, with each playing a role when Hernandez missed time during the 2012 season.

Jake Ballard spent the season on injured reserve, but has made his return to Patriots practice. While he hasn’t looked completely recovered from his knee injury, he could be a candidate for playing time if healthy; he is one of the more versatile tight ends on the roster due to his abilities as both a blocker and a pass-catcher.

Undrafted free-agent Zach Sudfeld has also impressed at OTAs, and could work his way onto the roster. Another UDFA signing, Brandon Ford, has been more under-the-radar this offseason, but he could be a similar size-speed matchup problem for opposing defenses at 6’4″ and 245 while running a 4.66-second 40-yard dash.

For an offense that has been so heavily based around its two-tight end formations, names like Hoomanawanui, Fells, Ballard, Sudfeld and Ford don’t quite carry the same ring to them that Hernandez does.

There are plenty of options—that is, if they want to continue down the same path on offense.

It’s also possible that the loss of Hernandez forces the Patriots to go back to the drawing board. Maybe a 2TE set is no longer the best recipe for success in New England.

Hernandez spent much of his time lined up in the slot, and even on the outside on occasion, so the Patriots could run more three-receiver sets, which would lead to more opportunities for slot receivers like Julian Edelman.

The spotlight on the wide receiver position—which already shines bright following the loss of Wes Welker—may be blinding.

The Patriots have already added veterans Michael Jenkins and Donald Jones this offseason, and could be going back to the well before we know it. Steve Breaston is an intriguing candidate, but only the Steelers have shown an interest, and that interest was over as of Wednesday.

The Patriots released Brandon Lloyd earlier this offseason, but he remains on the market and there’s been no buzz of activity on that front. The Patriots also had wide receivers Austin Collie and Chaz Schilens in for workouts during mini-camp according to ESPN Boston. 

Familiar names like Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch remain on the market, and neither would need an “assimilation” into the Patriots offense, as both are familiar with the system from their experience in New England and with Josh McDaniels.

It’s also possible that the Patriots look to run the ball a bit more than they have in year’s past. They kept a fair balance between the run and pass last year, and with one of the better run-blocking offensive lines in the game, they could look to employ a more smash-mouth attack in 2013.

Following Hernandez’s release, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Patriots try to recoup some of the money they gave him when they signed him to a contract extension last offseason.

Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com tweeted out some interesting information regarding how the Patriots might get back some of that money.

To clarify, Hernandez’s guaranteed money ($16 million) should void as a result of the NFL’s personal conduct policy, but as he has not yet been found guilty, it’s unclear how this will affect their ability to get back any, some or all of his $12.5 million signing bonus.

Fitzgerald also told me that Hernandez’s cap hit for 2013 could drop from $12.51 million in dead money to $2.632 million.

Clearly, the impact of this whole situation spreads far and wide.

Regardless of the financial impact, Hernandez’s arrest and release from the roster likely means the Patriots offense will look much different than it did last year. That was the case already, but instead of cosmetic changes, these events could lead to structural changes.

It’s Finally Time for Celtics to Dump Paul Pierce, KG and Start Full Rebuild

With Doc Rivers finally headed to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for a first-round pick, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the Boston Celtics must now prepare to ship out Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce so they can begin the rebuilding process in earnest.

Moving Pierce elsewhere is easy and totally within general manager Danny Ainge’s control. Boston can buy out its franchise icon for just $5 million, so long as it does so before July 1. That move would save the Celtics more than $10 million off of next year’s salary cap, moving the team comfortably beneath the luxury tax line.

Before any buyout occurs, though, the Celtics are likely to entertain trade offers for Pierce. One rumor from Bob Finnan of The News-Herald had the Cleveland Cavaliers offering a pair of second-round picks in exchange for the veteran small forward.

Whether by trade or by buyout, it seems that Pierce will be moving on from the Celtics in the very near future.

Garnett’s situation is much more complicated. Originally included in what was technically termed a separate deal with the Clippers for center DeAndre Jordan, Garnett was supposed to have followed Rivers to Los Angeles.

 

Hi-res-156465998_crop_exactBruce Bennett/Getty Images

 

Per Wojnarowski, KG reportedly would have agreed to waive his no-trade clause only if he could join his coach with the Clippers.

But the NBA stepped in, making it known that it wouldn’t allow the Celtics and Clippers to essentially agree to two deals that were separate in name only. That intrusion from the NBA office appeared to have killed negotiations between the two teams, but the Clippers simply redirected their focus exclusively onto Rivers, apparently abandoning the half of the deal that included Garnett.

And now that the Clips have their new coach, it would stand to reason that they’d resume pursuit of a trade for Garnett. But there’s a problem.

According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, the NBA has made it crystal clear that any subsequent moves to send KG to the Clippers will be extremely difficult to pull off.

It’s theoretically possible that the Clippers and Celtics could work out a modified version of the deal that might appease the league, but it certainly doesn’t sound like the NBA is willing to allow any trade that sends Garnett to the Clippers.

Stubbornness, thy name is Stern.

The league showed a surprising willingness to nix a trade it didn’t like when the Los Angeles Lakers and the New Orleans Hornets had agreed on a deal to send Chris Paul to Hollywood, so this kind of dictatorial move is hardly surprising.

 

Hi-res-135992759_crop_exactStephen Dunn/Getty Images

 

That deal-killing behavior from the league turned out to be a boon for the Clippers, who ultimately ended up with Paul. Now it seems the league is evening the score.

As for the Celtics, the timing is certainly right for a new start. Since 2007, Boston has operated on a year-to-year basis, hoping to hold on for one more run with its veteran core. But now that Rivers is headed to the opposite coast, there’s little reason to suspect that the same strategy will be of use going forward.

Garnett won’t want anything to do with a rebuilding effort, especially with Rivers (and probably Pierce) long gone. If the league won’t allow the Celtics to move him to the Clippers, KG will have to reassess whether there are any other destinations he’d consider waiving his no-trade clause to visit.

And if none of those seem appealing, retirement could become a very real possibility.

 

Hi-res-84731705_crop_exactElsa/Getty Images

 

The Celtics had a great run over the past six seasons, but nothing lasts forever. It’s time for a new chapter in Boston.