Fred, Neymar lead rout of Spain, claim Brazil’s third straight Confederations Cup

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From a tournament that began with doubts, Brazil have claimed silverware, handing Spain their most embarrassing loss since the Furia Roja were recognized as the world’s preeminent soccer power. With two goals from Fred and another from Neymar, the Confederations Cup hosts handed the world champions a 3-0 telling loss, one that not only casts doubts on the state of Spain’s hegemony but also announces Brazil as a legitimate contender for next year’s World Cup.

That status looked out of reach two weeks ago, before FIFA’s quadrennial World Cup warmup started. Brazil had recently changed coaches, going back to Luiz Felipe Scolari after the mixed results of the Mano Menezes era. The result was an untested team still looking for an identity; a team that was still thought to be a step behind Spain and the world’s other elites.

Yet any suspicion this would be a typical Spain match was dispelled when Brazil took a shock lead in the second minute, a defensive breakdown allowing Fred to open the scoring while face-down in Iker Casillas’s six-yard box. A looped cross from Brazil’s right fell between defenders Gerard Piqué and Álvaro Arbeloa, with Fred going to ground while trying to compete for the cross. When neither Spanish defender was able to clear the ball, the cross fell to the Brazilian number nine, who was able to get his right foot onto it before Casillas could smother the ball.

The goal spurred Brazil on to an inspired first 25 minutes, when high pressing after turnovers threw the Spaniards off their game, the teams sharing possession for much of the half. Spain’s attempts to calm the game and resume their normal monopoly of the ball were disrupted by the Brazilians’ intensity, with the Seleçao nearly doubling their lead in the 28th minute while Fred failed to convert an open chance near the spot.

Near halftime, Spain almost equalized when Pedro, open in the right of the area, slid a ball past Julio César from 14 yards out. Brazilian defender David Luiz, however, lunged to complete spectacular clearance, preserving the home side’s lead as the world champions appeared to ascend into the match.

That ascent was quelled three minutes later when Neymar, fed to the left of Casillas, blasted a left-footed shot near post and into the top of goal, Casillas bending back and watching as the power of the shot carried Brazil to a 2-0 halftime lead.

In the 47th minute, Fred put the match away, queuing the assured, composed celebrations of teammates and coaches as he slid Brazil’s icing inside Casillas’s left post. Confidently jogging away from goal with a right hand to his ear, collecting the praise of a rabid Maracana crowd, Fred failed to portray his team’s role of surprised upstart. Instead, having had intermission to consider what the team had accomplished, the former Lyon man took his goal with a favorite’s confidence, jogging to the corner flag in triumph of his second score.

Whatever hope Spain maintained was vanquished in the 55th minute as Sergio Ramos, surprisingly attempting his team’s conversation after Jesus Navas drew a penalty, pulled his shot wide left of César’s goal. Fourteen minutes later, when Neymar drew a red card from Gerard Piqué, Spain suffered the indignity of finishing with 10 men.

Cruising through the last 20 minutes of a decided match, Brazil gave onlookers a chance to consider what’s to come. The soundtrack of the Marcana’s crowd told the story of a team who’d carried doubts into the tournament yet ultimately inspired their skeptical and fractured fan base. While protests and demonstrations proceeded outside the stadium, deriding the state of Brazilian social politics, the scene inside the venue spoke to the nation’s sporting potential. At next year’s World Cup, they’ll be more than hosts. Brazil will be threats, if not favorites, to claim a sixth World Cup.

Spain, in contrast, suffered their greatest embarrassment since 2008, when their victory at the European Championships ushered in this era of Spanish dominance. Whether that era ended with tonight’s loss, their worst in 28 years, remains to be seen, but La Roja’s vulnerabilities are clear. Whereas before this tournament it would have been difficult to justify seeing anybody but Spain as World Cup favorites, now the world’s former preeminent soccer power has affirmed a place in the discussion.

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.