Brilliant Brazil show World Cup promise with 3-0 win over Spain
Fred and Neymar inspire hosts to emphatic Confederations Cup triumph over Spain that brought back memories of the nation's glory years
Any doubts that Brazil are serious contenders for next year's World Cup were swept away by a majestic 3-0 victory over world champions Spain as they won the Confederations Cup in front of an ecstatic local crowd at the Maracana Stadium.
Inspired by Neymar and Fred in attack, David Luiz at the back and the indefatigable Paulinho thundering around the midfield, Brazil ended Spain's record run of 29 unbeaten competitive matches and brought back memories of their glory days.
They began with a scrappy goal from Fred after some shocking Spanish defending in the second minute, went 2-0 ahead when Neymar lashed an unstoppable angled left-foot shot past Iker Casillas a minute before half-time, and wrapped up the match when Fred plundered a third with another angled shot two minutes after the restart.
A crucial stop from Luiz after 41 minutes was vital to the victory, however. With Brazil 1-0 ahead and Spain beginning to finally make an impact, the world champions looked set to equalise with a Pedro shot that had beaten goalkeeper Julio Cesar. But with the ball about to cross the line, Luiz sprinted from nowhere, stuck out a leg, and diverted it away for a memorable clearance.
"I owed that one to Julio Cesar after giving away the penalty against Uruguay," he said. "I managed to pay back the debt and help the team."
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said the victory showed his team were taking huge strides along the road towards winning the World Cup at home next year.
While Spain coach Vicente del Bosque accepted his side were beaten by a better team on the night, he also thought Brazil's 26 fouls showed a less savoury side of their game.
However, Scolari chose to remain focused on the dazzling performance and could not hide his delight at Brazil's fifth straight win in the competition which they have now won three times in a row.
"I don't think I could feel any better than how I am right now," he said. "I thought that any positive result would be great and to beat them 3-0, that is much better than I imagined.
"But I also believe that overall, not only because of the score but the way we played, we had a very good match.
"Now I am able to dream that we have an idea, that we have a path ahead of us, and that we have a good team to play in the World Cup next year as equals with other strong contenders."
Scolari, 64, began the tournament with suspicion beginning to build locally that although he did a superb job capturing the World Cup in 2002, perhaps his time had now passed.
His first seven matches back in the job yielded two wins, four draws and a defeat. Added pressure came from an unlikely source: the anti-government protests sweeping Brazil with the Confederations Cup a catalyst for people's dissent.
Scolari said he hoped that a Brazil victory in the tournament would at least bring the country together, and while the protests are expected to continue, at least, he in a sense, kept his end of the bargain with a successful Confederations campaign.
"It was important not just for the football team but the whole country for obvious reasons," he said.
"But as far as the team are concerned, one thing that is important is that in the last 30 days we have beaten four former or current world champions: France, Uruguay, Italy and Spain.
"We are a team still being formed, facing a lot of difficulties and I think this win upgrades the team, giving us more confidence. It's something that will make us play in a different way."
Del Bosque congratulated Brazil on their victory, adding: "We had a touch of bad luck in the first two minutes of both halves and in the final minutes of the first half, but I don't want to make excuses. They were better.
"I think we've had a good Confederations Cup. I'll stick with the positive. Our players gave their all.
"Neymar and the rest had much more energy, and that was reflected in every play.
"The only thing I was not too happy about was the number of Brazilian fouls but that came because they put pressure on us all over the field. But we have no complaints.
"When we look at our track record, we can be proud. Today we have been defeated, but we won't just sit back and accept it. We will fight back, we have good players and I don't see the need to change just because we were well beaten for once."