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Brazil struggles but finds Confeds Cup win
Updated: 2009-06-26 09:37

JOHANNESBURG: The Brazil team that narrowly beat South Africa 1-0 in the Confederations Cup semifinals Thursday looked a pale shadow of the one that demolished world champion Italy just four days ago.

Brazil followed its impressive 3-0 victory over Italy with a listless performance against the hosts, reaching its second straight Confederations Cup final thanks to a late goal by substitute right back Daniel Alves.

Brazil struggles but finds Confeds Cup win

South Africa's goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune misses a free kick hit from Brazil's Daniel Alves (R) during their Confederations Cup semi-final soccer match at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg June 25, 2009.

Brazil played poorly from the start and did just enough to escape with the victory in front of 48,000 spectators at Ellis Park.

"With the way South Africa defended the entire match, things became a bit difficult for us," Brazil coach Dunga said. "We couldn't penetrate through the middle and couldn't change the ball from side to side like we normally do."

Alves' 88th-minute free kick goal kept alive Brazil's seven-match winning streak, but the Brazilians hadn't been held to a single goal in six matches, since a 1-1 draw at Ecuador in a World Cup qualifier in March.

Brazil, unbeaten in 15 matches, had scored 10 goals in its first three matches, and it looked like its attack was peaking in South Africa.

But Brazil was not able to impose its fast-paced style on Thursday, and Kaka and Robinho couldn't team up effectively to create dangerous scoring opportunities. They threatened occasionally with some of their intricate individual moves, but failed to find space.

The South Africans crowded the midfield, and Brazil wasn't able to create options to break through their tight marking at the back.

"There was no space anywhere," Brazil striker Luis Fabiano said. "Everywhere we went there was someone right there with us."

Brazil also failed to create danger down the flanks, with wing backs Andre Santos and Maicon not able to make significant runs.

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"They played 100 percent perfect tactically," right back Maicon said. "We had to stay patient until the end and it paid off."

The Brazilians did allow South Africa to pressure, however, and the hosts came close to scoring on several occasions, keeping the raucous home crowd on the edge of their seats.

Brazil began the tournament with a sloppy 4-3 win over Egypt in Bloemfontein, escaping with victory only after a controversial last-minute penalty kick converted by Kaka. But the five-time world champions picked up the pace in the second match, earning a comfortable 3-0 victory against the United States. They played even better against Italy, outplaying their rivals from the start.

Players had been saying team was improving gradually, but Thursday's performance came as a setback for Dunga, who made only one change from the squad that beat Italy on Sunday, replacing injured central defender Juan with Luisao.

A victory against the United States in the final on Sunday will make Brazil the first team to win three Confederations Cup titles, one more than France. Brazil can also join France as the only team to win successive titles in the eight-team competition that is being used as a World Cup warm-up tournament.