Paulinho shines as Brazil defeat Uruguay, move into Confederations Cup final

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What was supposed to be a dry run for next year’s World Cup has slowly become a coming out party for an international giant who’d come into the Confederations Cup with more questions than renown. But after tonight’s 2-1 victory over Uruguay, where an 86th minute winner from Paulinho sank the South American champions, Brazil have done all anybody would have hoped for at the beginning of the tournament. Perfect through games against Japan, Mexico, Italy and Uruguay, the 22nd-ranked Selecao will face the winner of tomorrow’s Spain-Italy match in Sunday’s final having already reaffirmed their place among the elites of the world’s game.

Brazil opened the scoring just before halftime, with a sellout crowd in Belo Horizonte erupting when Fred put home the rebound of a Neymar shot, sending the home side into half time up 1-0. Uruguay equalized through Edinson Cavani three minutes into the second, putting the match on a course for extra time, but off a late corner kick delivered by Neymar, Paulinho sent Brazil into the final.

It was a standout match for the Corinthians midfielder, linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur or Chelsea. A superb long ball sent over the defense from the center circle sprung Neymar ahead of the first goal, and elevating for an eventually uncontested header near full time, Paulinho played the most important part in both of Brazil’s goals. In the process, he continued a rise that’s mirrored his team, both bringing some much deserved attention to themselves with standout Confederations Cup runs.

The teams set up as expected, with Brazil’s attacking three of Neymar, Fred, and Hulk relying on the playmaking of Oscar to break through a Uruguayan 4-3-3 that started their back seven at the top of their arc. Óscar Tabarez choice of Luis Suárez, Diego Forlán, and Edinson Cavani up top saw Uruguay revert to their successful World Cup formula, one that would rely on the trio’s supreme skill in limited chances to balance out what was sure to be a severe possession deficit.

Through most of the first half, Tabarez’s tactics worked. Brazil monopolized the ball but saw the worse of chances, with a Forlán penalty kick saved by former Inter Milan teammate Julio Cesar keeping the match scoreless after 13 minutes. When another Forlán chance from 23 yards out saw his half-volley sail just outside the upper-left hand corner, Uruguay’s plan seemed to be working.

But in the 41st minute, Brazil turned the tables, a long ball from Paulinho finding Neymar streaking between Maxi Pereira and Diego Lugano in Uruugay’s back four. Dropping his pass with the position of a Brazilian Pirlo, the Tottenham target sent Neymar in on Fernando Muslera, with only a decisive read from the Uruguayan keeper preventing another Neymar goal. The rebound, however, fell to the middle of the box, where a hop and a scissor kick from Fred saw a shot go off his shin and inside the right post, giving Brazil a 1-0 lead.

The score highlighted the risk of Tabarez’s approach, but given how well the Celeste had executed their plan, it was easy to feel the visitors were hard done. With a back three that laid off Brazil’s defense, Uruguay begged the Selecao to bring the game to them. And for 40 minutes, they couldn’t, the Brazilians seemingly rekindling the uncertainties they carried into the tournament. Even though they went into halftime up one, the direct nature of their goal left you wondering the extent to which Brazil’s capable of coping with a plan like Uruguay’s.

Those musings were amplified three minutes into the second when a series of failed clearances at the edge of the Brazilian era ended with the ball at Cavani’s feet, his left-footed roller just inside the far left corner from 16 yards out equalizing for the Uruguayans. Though it was a softly hit shot, the movements Cesar was making to keep up with the series of deflections left him off guard, his shift to his left to square up for Cavani’s shot coming too late to save the Celeste’s opening goal.

With the score even, the match initially resumed the first half’s tenor, Brazil dictating play but failing to stress Fernando Muslera. Chances for Lugano and Cavani broke up spells of Brazilian control, the home side racking up advantages in shots that had little chance of deciding the game. As time built, and as Luiz Felipe Scolar tweaked his team, brining on Bernard and Hernanes for Hulk and Oscar, extra time not only seemed invited but inevitable. There was a curiosity in the growing tension of the Belo Horizonte crowd, a wonder of where the atmosphere would stand after 120 minutes.

That curiosity ended in the 86th minute, with the man who was so crucial to Brazil’s opening goal getting his name on the scoresheet. Off one of the slew of late corners they’d earned from their dominance of play, Brazil Neymar loft a ball for the far post from the left flank. There Paulinho was allowed to rise uncontested, putting his header just below the crossbar to give Brazil a place in the final.

In a match the rekindled doubts, the winner proved vindication – proof the still building team was capable of pushing through a experienced, resilient side. In their first full tournament since 2011’s Copa America, Brazil came into the Confederation Cup an untested team, and given the still-building reputation of the competition, it was unclear to what extent they’d be pushed this month. But like the tournament itself, Brazil has proved to be more than expected, with Japan, Mexico, Italy and Uruguay providing a validating gauntlet for Scolari’s melding team.

The next test for that group is likely to be the ultimate one. Though Spain still have to navigate Italy in tomorrow’s semifinal, the world is anticipating the meeting they didn’t get four years ago. On Sunday, Brazil should get their crack at the world champions.

VIDEO: Hamburg’s Muller out seven months after goal celebration

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Nicolai Mueller has gone full Gramatica, in doing so putting extra pressure on American teammate Bobby Wood.

Muller scored the lone goal in Hamburg’s season-opening win over Augsburg, but his celebration recalled memories of an injury to former Arizona Cardinals kicker Bill Gramatica.

[ MORE: Bundesliga wrap ]

Muller’s “helicopter” goal celebration, a staple for the midfielder, saw him tear his ACL upon landing near the corner flag. He’s set to miss seven months.

That means even more of the scoring burden will fall on Wood, whose nine goals last season led the team in its race to avoid relegation. Muller’s five goals were tied for second with Austrian forward Michael Gregoritsch.

Here’s the Hamburg hierarchy, from Bundesliga.com:

“The diagnosis comes as a huge shock to us, it’s a big blow at the start of the season and obviously is really tough on Nicolai,” said Hamburg sporting director Jens Todt. “We wish him all the best for his recovery and, of course, will support him as best we can.”

“It’s bad news,” added HSV head coach Markus Gisdol. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Muller has thrice scored eight or more Bundesliga goals, and is a huge loss for Hamburg. Though it’s tempting to chasten a player who’s hurt while celebrating a goal, there’s always a part of us that wants to point out that the ligament probably wasn’t in the finest shape if it earned a tear on such a non-explosive landing.

New Zealand star striker Wood to leave Leeds for Burnley

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Chris Wood is undergoing a medical at Burnley ahead of a proposed $19.2 million move from Leeds United.

Wood, 25, has played briefly for two Premier League clubs, West Bromwich Albion and Leicester City, but saw his stock explode thanks to a 27-goal campaign in the Championship this season.

[ MORE: Premier League Sat. roundup ]

Burnley hopes the 6-foot-3 Wood can help replace Andre Gray, who left for Watford. The Clarets beat Chelsea on Opening Weekend and were unlucky to lose against West Brom on Saturday.

He’s also scored in his lone Championship appearance this season, and has thrice earned promotion; Wood helped West Brom and Leicester to the Premier League, and Brighton and Hove Albion to League One.

Wood has for some time been a star on the New Zealand national team, scoring 20 goals in 52 caps since 2009. He’s a perfect fit for Sean Dyche‘s playing style. The only question is whether he can bring his prowess to the Premier League level.

Stream Live: Huddersfield Town vs. Newcastle United

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Huddersfield Town looks to stay perfect in the Premier League when it hosts Newcastle United at the John Smith’s Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Town handled Crystal Palace 3-0 in its first match since earning promotion from the Championship, powered by a brace from 22-year-old ex-Montpellier striker Steve Mounie.

USMNT midfielder Danny Williams is on the bench for Town, which is managed by ex-USMNT player David Wagner.

[ STREAM: Huddersfield Town vs. Newcastle United ]

Newcastle United, meanwhile, fell 2-0 to Tottenham Hotspur. The clubs were scoreless through 50 minutes when Jonjo Shelvey stamped on Dele Alli and earned a red card.

He sits Sunday, and will be replaced by Borussia Dortmund loanee Mikel Merino.

LINEUPS

Huddersfield Town: Lossl, Smith, Billing, Schindler, Zanka, Lowe, Mooy, Van La Parra, Kachunga, Ince, Mounie. Subs: Coleman, Malone, Lolley, Williams, Quaner, Hefele, Palmer.

Newcastle United: Elliot, Manquillo, Lascelles, Mbemba, Clark; Ritchie, Merino, Hayden, Atsu; Perez, Gayle. Subs: Darlow, Saivet, Aarons, Diame, Murphy, Joselu, Mitrovic.

MLS Snapshot: Chicago Fire 1-3 Toronto FC (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): Greg Vanney and Toronto keep on doing their thing, and the Canadian side is yet another step closer to achieving MLS glory. TFC picked up its 50th point of the season on Saturday night after comfortably handling the Chicago Fire, who have cooled off significantly as of late in the Eastern Conference. The Fire are now nine points behind the East leaders and are losers of four of their last five matches.

Three moments that mattered

54′ — Accam, Fire level it up — Toronto really does manage to get contributions from everybody…

64′ — Hasler nets first MLS goal — Toronto really does manage to get contributions from all of their players…

90′ — Giovinco says goodnight to Chicago — That’s 12 goals on the season for Sebastian Giovinco and the TFC striker continues to help his side push towards the top seed in the East and MLS.

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Man of the match: Sebastian Giovinco

Goalscorers: Marco Delgado (14′), David Accam (54′), Nick Hasler (63′), Sebastian Giovinco (90′)