Brazil defeated reigning World Champions Spain 3-0 to secure their third consecutive Confederations Cup title and restore their reputation as one of the best footballing nations in the world at the Maracana Stadium on Sunday. Brazil’s victory ended Spain's unbeaten streak of 29 competitive matches, and heralded the emergence of a new generation of Brazilian players that will attempt to hoist the World Cup trophy on Brazilian soil in 2014. Brazil's defeat of Spain, on June 30, coincided with the same date eleven years ago, when coach Luiz Felipe Scolari led Brazil to victory in the 2002 World Cup final. Sunday’s win means Brazil have now secured consecutive victories against France, Japan, Mexico, Italy, Uruguay and Spain, thereby beating four World Cup Champions (France, Italy, Uruguay, Spain) in the last month.
The match got off to an electric start when Hulk’s cross from the right flank fell to Fred, who had fallen in the box but nevertheless managed to dispatch the ball into the roof the net to make it 2-0 in the 2nd minute. The crowd in the Maracana stadium exploded with delight upon Fred’s goal, and subsequently cheered every time Brazil touched the ball, while conversely booing Spain whenever they had possession. Spain appeared shocked by Fred’s goal and almost went down 2-0 within 10 minutes when Oscar squandered by a golden opportunity by shooting the ball just wide of the net after receiving a flick from Fred. The opening minutes witnessed highly heated play from both teams, with players from both sides making aggressive tackles that ended up seeing Arbeola and Sergio Ramos receive yellow cards within the first 30 minutes.
Brazil’s defensive midfielders Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo proved critical to disrupting any attempt by Spain to settle into their tiki-taka passing rhythm. The entire Brazil team, however, applied pressure to Spain anytime they obtained possession as Hulk, Oscar, Marcelo and Dani Alves chased down every ball and thwarted attempts by Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets to build up through midfield using La Roja’s trademark possession game. Ruffled, Spain began resorting to long range shots or high crosses delivered from the flanks as they found themselves unable to penetrate down the center. Spain’s best chance of the evening came in the 40th minute, when Pedro picked up a pass from Juan Mata and unleashed a shot that was heading straight into goal had it not been for a miraculous last minute clearance by David Luiz, who skied the ball over the bar with his right foot. Minutes later, however, Brazil challenged the Spain goal when Oscar began a dangerous attack with Neymar and Fred, and ultimately passed to Neymar from the center of box. The Brazil number 10 sent a rocket of a shot into the roof of the net to make it 2-0 Brazil on the edge of halftime.
Things only got worse for Spain minutes into the second half, as Marcelo cut inside and found Hulk in an attacking midfield position. Hulk laid off the ball to Fred after Neymar dummied receipt of the pass, allowing Fred to calmly dispatch the ball into the corner of the net to make it 3-0 after 47 minutes. Spain almost pulled a goal back when substitute Jesus Navas drew a penalty for a foul by Marcelo, but Sergio Ramos curled the ball wide of goal to leave the scoreline at 3-0. Spain continued to press while Brazil, conversely, continued to apply pressure on every Spanish attempt at possession and began attacking on the counterattack given their three goal lead. The complexion of the match unalterably changed, however, when Pique received a red card for fouling Neymar on a dangerous counterattacking opportunity for Brazil. Down to ten men, Spain showed the mettle of champions by threatening Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar on a couple of occasions, while failing to score, nevertheless.
Overall, Brazil demonstrated convincingly that Spain are not only beatable, but are intensely vulnerable to a strategy based on sustained pressure in midfield that disrupts their passing game. Meanwhile, off the pitch, the debate in the Brazil about the value of the World Cup and the government’s social and economic policies is likely to continue. More than 11,000 police and troops were deployed to guarantee security for the players and 78,000 fans who packed the Maracana stadium. For Brazil football fans, however, it was a night full of joy and celebration as Luiz Felipe Scolari and team showed that the sun may finally have set on the Spanish footballing throne and that, in its place, a new generation of Brazilian footballers led by Neymar, Oscar and Paulinho is ready to pick up the mantle as preparations for World Cup 2014 continue in earnest. Brazil now have a year to tweak their team and strategy ahead of the 2014 World Cup and should expect their FIFA ranking to skyrocket from its current, highly disingenuous ranking of 22.