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Dream Final for Confed Cup

Rio De Janeiro — The Confederations Cup has the final nearly everyone wanted: a long-awaited matchup between world champion Spain and host Brazil.

The most dominant national team in recent years and the most successful team ever in international play will meet today at Maracana Stadium for the title of the eight-nation warmup tournament for next year’s World Cup.

It will be the first meeting between the nations since 1999 and their first competitive match since Brazil’s 1-0 win on Socrates’ goal in the first round of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

“It’s the match everyone wanted to happen,” Brazilian striker Neymar said. “The entire world wanted it and everybody will be watching it.”

Brazil hopes a victory will help it regain its status as a global powerhouse after recent struggles, while Spain wants to show that not even the five-time world champions can put a dent in its supremacy.

With more than 70,000 Brazilian fans packing the iconic venue, the world and European champions will be put to the test by a reinvigorated Selecao led by 21-year-old Neymar and World Cup-winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.

“Spain is a spectacular team but it has weak points just like any other team,” Scolari said yesterday. “I don’t think they are the favorites. We are capable of winning. This is our home and we need to make them respect us.”

Spain won the 2010 World Cup along with the 2008 and 2012 European Championships. La Furia Roja are unbeaten in a world record 29 competitive matches over three years since losing their 2010 World Cup opener to Switzerland, outscoring opponents 69-11 over that span.

“We’re going to face up to them,” Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque told FIFA. “Brazil have won five World Cups and three Confederations Cups and they’ll be playing at the Maracana in front of their own fans. For us it’s a dream game.”

Brazil won its fifth World Cup title in 2002 but was eliminated in the quarterfinals in the last two World Cups and hasn’t won a significant title since the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa.

“They are the current world champions, they have to be praised,” Brazil captain Thiago Silva said. “But anything can happen in a final and I’m certain that Brazil will be fully prepared for the matchup.”

Spain hasn’t lost in 26 matches overall, since a 1-0 defeat against England at London in 2011. Brazil struggled after Scolari replaced Mano Menezes in November, winning only one of its first six matches. Scolari, who coached Brazil to the 2002 World Cup title, enters the final with a five-game winning streak.

“There is no doubt it will be an even match,” Brazil right back Daniel Alves said. “There is mutual respect between these two national teams.”

Brazil beat Japan, Mexico and Italy in the group stage before defeating South American champion Uruguay 2-1 in the semifinals. Spain defeated the Uruguayans in its opener, then routed Tahiti and beat Nigeria before getting past Italy on penalty kicks in the semifinals.

“It’s the match everybody has been waiting for,” said Brazil assistant coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who led the national team to the 1994 world title. “We all know how good Spain is, but Brazil is going through a sensational moment and is full of confidence.”

While the host hasn’t played since Wednesday, Spain endured overtime and the shootout in the semifinal against Italy in the heat of Fortaleza on Thursday. Del Bosque has said Spain will not use fatigue as an excuse, and Scolari also downplayed the issue.

“They were able to rest all of their starters when they played Tahiti, so basically they had to play one game less than we did,” he said.

Both coaches will have all of their top players available for the match at the renovated Maracana.

Four players who will be in today’s final were nominated for the Golden Ball award handed to the best players at the Confederations Cup: Brazil’s Neymar and Paulinho and Spain’s Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos.