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.