Jun 26, 2013, 5:16 PM EST
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.
Dec 6, 2013, 8:10 PM EST
Where to watch all the games from Week 15, right here:
MLS Cup preview: Real Salt Lake meets Sporting Kansas City to decide Major League Soccer’s 18th championship
Dec 6, 2013, 7:33 PM EST
Two well-regarded American coaches, two super defenses and record cold temperatures are the dominant sub-plots:
Dec 6, 2013, 7:00 PM EST
Could one very hard-to-read Frenchman be the key to Real Salt Lake’s title chances?
Dec 6, 2013, 6:21 PM EST
Given the crippling equatorial heat in Manaus, England and Italy will lobby FIFA to build drinks breaks into matches. The United States is also set to play a match in the Amazonian city.
Dec 6, 2013, 5:45 PM EST
Two Best XI players and 2012′s Goalkeeper of the Year will be Sporting’s key men on Saturday.
Dec 6, 2013, 5:05 PM EST
The German boss smiled upon FIFA’s placement of his country with the United States. The rest of the country remains confident that the group stage is just the beginning for Germany.
Dec 6, 2013, 4:30 PM EST
Will the Three Lions roar to victory in Brazil? The answer is… probably not:
Dec 6, 2013, 4:29 PM EST
One team that could have not asked for a better World Cup draw is non other than two-time World Cup champion, Argentina. Being drawn into Group F with Bosnia, Iran, and Nigeria; the South Americans are already expected to have a place in the Round of 16 and even already in the quarterfinals since they…
Dec 6, 2013, 4:00 PM EST
If RSL’s number nine is healthy, this is an easy call. If not, Saturday’s visitors may still have the edge.
Dec 6, 2013, 3:46 PM EST
Star Cristiano Ronaldo, manager Paulo Bento, and former international Luis Figo all acknowledged Germany’s presence will make things difficult but remained hopeful of Portugal’s chances in the group.
Dec 6, 2013, 3:30 PM EST
The formations are different but the roles are similar for Sporting, RSL’s midfields.
Dec 6, 2013, 3:18 PM EST
Some of the massive games we can look forward to in the opening stages of the World Cup:
Dec 6, 2013, 2:59 PM EST
Real Salt Lake captain and USMNT midfielder, Kyle Beckerman, was caught by the media in the MLS World Cup Draw party in Kansas City. The holding midfielder sounded calm with a hint of resignation about the unkind USMNT World Cup draw that has put them against Portugal, Germany and Ghana on what many people claim to be this…
Dec 6, 2013, 2:47 PM EST
It’ll take a lot of work for any of CONCACAF’s four teams to find their way out of group play at the 2014 World Cup, though for some it will be easier than others.
Dec 6, 2013, 2:42 PM EST
The USMNT forward has shed some light, if vaguely, on what his immediate future might hold as he gears up for Brazil 2014.
Dec 6, 2013, 2:31 PM EST
Let’s break down Germany, Portugal and Ghana and how the U.S. may fare against them:
Dec 6, 2013, 2:20 PM EST
Not that he’ll ask us … but if he does, here’s what we have to say about how the roster should look:
Dec 6, 2013, 2:10 PM EST
At first blush — and by FIFA rankings — three groups look tougher than the rest.
Dec 6, 2013, 1:59 PM EST
The draw for the 2014 World Cup took place in Costa do Sauipe, Bahia today. The draw is the first major event of the tournament and it is in this instance where a lot of things are decided. The long path to winning the World Cup starts here, as the draw sets the difficulty bar for each…
Dec 6, 2013, 1:38 PM EST
The day wasn’t about “dread” for the man known as Deuce, it was about “excitement,” he says:
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