Brazil were expected to win the Confederation Cup on home soil and they did just that tonight with a masterclass 3-0 defeat of the current World Cup and European champions Spain. Fred scored twice and Neymar scored his fourth of the tournament as Brazil sent a message to the world ahead of next summer's main event.
In boxing there are moments when a long-time champion finally faces a fight that their talent, guile and experience simply cannot prepare them for. The old champion may still have the swagger and desire to be the best but inevitably someone younger, stronger and faster always comes along, ready to dethrone the legend.
Brazil are not "young" in terms of soccer heritage, but over the past few major tournaments they haven't been the powerful force we'd grown accustomed to. In recent years there's no question that Spain have become the standard by which all international teams are measured.
Today at the Estádio do Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro we saw a young, developing Brazilian side make a massive statement as they stepped into the ring with the champion and for 12 figurative rounds, knocked them all over the place. They never let Spain breathe, overwhelming La Roja with a relentless energy that the defending World Cup champions had no answer for.
Brazil got off to a brilliant start when a long ball into the Spain box was misplayed by defender Álvaro Arbeloa -- he actually brought the ball down with a handball -- knocked the ball down onto Fred's foot who was lying on the ground in front of Iker Casillas (who was also on the ground). The ball ended up right on Fred's foot as the Fluminense striker lifted the ball up and over Casillas to give the Seleção a 1-0 lead in the 2nd minute.
For anyone who enjoys trivia, it was the third-fastest goal in Confederations Cup history and the fastest ever scored in the final.
Five minutes later, Oscar missed an absolute sitter, sending a shot from 10 yards out just wide of the post. Fred was involved again, finding Oscar with a lovely back heel after the ball was deflected across the Spain area.
Brazil's intent was clear though from the opening kick as they went right after Spain with an aggressive, high-energy approach that would not allow Spain to settle into their preferred possession controlling style. Like a fighter with lightning-quick footwork, Brazil danced around Spain stinging them with jabs as every ball was challenged by a yellow-shirted player. It clearly bothered La Roja throughout the first half and Vicente del Bosque's side had no answer.
Spain finally got a shot on goal in the 20th minute when Andres Iniesta got tired of passing the ball around, deciding instead to launch a shot from 30+ yards out that forced a save from Júlio César.
Brazil were denied a chance to double the lead in the 32nd minute when Casillas stonewalled Fred after Brazil jumped on a Spain giveaway in the midfield. The pace and quickness shown by Brazil on the counter was something Spain simply couldn't deal with, but Saint Iker was up to the task on this occasion making a great save with his feet after Fred got the ball from Neymar, completely unmarked on the left side of the box.
David Luiz was the hero for Brazil five minutes from halftime after Juan Mata found Pedro with acres of space on the right side of the Brazil box. César tried to close down on the Barcelona striker but Pedro's low shot beat him and looked destined for the back of the net before Luiz came flying in out of nowhere and deflected the ball up and over the goal with a stunning slide tackle.
Just as the aging champion fighter looked to be getting themselves back into the fight, the challenger countered with a lovely combination that put the champ right on the canvas.
In the 44th minute Neymar doubled Brazil's lead, making a tremendous adjustment to get himself back onside before receiving a quick pass from Oscar as he rocketed past the Spanish back line. Neymar's shot was precise as he hammered the ball over the head of Casillas and into the top of the net.
Like a veteran trainer del Bosque no doubt laid into his players during halftime, imploring them to dig deep and find the energy to match Brazil's intensity. It simply was not to be though as Brazil needed less than three minutes to extend their lead to 3-0.
Spain's defense got pulled way out of position as Brazil overloaded their attack to the right before reversing play to Fred back on the left, unmarked as he moved into the box. Fred's low shot beat Casillas -- who probably should have done better -- inside the far post.
The key to the effectiveness of the play was Neymar, whose dummy on the ball as it crossed the pitch towards Fred drew in the defender, creating the pocket of space for Fred.
Even when Brazil tried to throw a lifeline to Spain, they couldn't take advantage. Marcelo's clumsy challenge on Jesus Navas in the 55th minute gave La Roja a penalty kick. For reasons known only to those on the pitch, Sergio Ramos stepped up and missed horribly to the left, adding another embarrassing layer to Spain's performance.
Things got even worse for Spain in the 68th minute when Gerard Piqué brought down Neymar with an ugly tackle as the Brazilian striker tried to race around him towards the Spanish goal. Piqué was shown a straight red by the match referee -- either for violent conduct or denying a goal-scoring opportunity, it doesn't really matter which -- ending his participation in the match.
César preserved the clean sheet in the 86th minute with an excellent save, denying David Villa as the Barca striker tried to curl the ball around Tiago Silva and into the top corner. Navas made an excellent run and pass to setup Villa as he was the lone bright spot for Spain in the game.
The result leaves little doubt that Brazil has wrestled away the mantle of favorites for the World Cup next summer -- especially with the tournament being held on their home soil -- but Spain is hardly finished.
There's a case to be made that Spain's grueling penalty victory over Italy in the semifinal, combined with Brazil's extra day of rest, played a part in the result. Many will look at that as people making excuses for Spain, but it's a legitimate point.
Perhaps a year from now we will get a rematch with soccer's biggest championship at stake, with both sides rested and at full strength.