By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – “The champions are back!” declared the Brazilian press on Monday morning. The most successful international team in football (soccer) history returned to the sporting forefront this past Sunday, June 30th, after taking world and European champions Spain apart at the Maracanã Stadium in the Confederations Cup Final.
An estimated 78,000 fans filled Rio’s famous stadium and they made themselves heard from the moment they began to arrive. There had been talk before the game of yet more protests dominating the headlines; but once the ball started rolling Coach Scolari’s players ensured few inside the concrete bowl thought about anything but the magic on the pitch.
Deemed as a somewhat of a preseason tournament before the 2014 World Cup, Spain came into the game clear favorites to lift the Confederations Cup. What few expected was the dominance Brazil displayed over their European rivals.
It took the hosts just 95 seconds to take the lead, Fred ramming the ball over the line from Hulk’s cross. At the end of the first half, Oscar’s pass found Neymar who smashed a shot past Casillas to send Brazil into the break two goals to the good.
Fred’s second, and Brazil’s third, two minutes into the second half put them out of sight in the game. It also has also put the Seleção Brasileira back on top of the international pedestal, albeit temporarily.
Seven months into his second spell as national head coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari has begun to find the right balance to his side. He changed his approach to that of predecessor Mano Menezes, and after a slow start is now reaping the rewards.
Brazil scored fourteen goals in five games, conceding only three. The line-up that started the final on Sunday is likely to be the one that starts the World Cup on June 12, 2014, barring injury.
That would mean a starting XI of Júlio César; Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Marcelo; Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho; Oscar, Neymar, Hulk; Fred. The squad has gained immeasurable experience not only by playing in a major FIFA tournament, but by winning it.
Without a doubt the highlight of the tournament for Brazil was the emergence of Neymar as an international player. The 21-year-old was elected player of the tournament and in four of Brazil’s five games was awarded the man-of-the-match.
Speaking after the final whistle on Sunday, Neymar said, “We played as many expected us to. [...] It was a special game against a wonderful team. We are happy to have won.”
During a night of pure inspiration Neymar was excellent from start to finish. He gave five assists throughout the match, scored the second and had an inadvertent hand in the first.
Three others came out of this success with their reputations enhanced. Scolari for leading the side to the title, goalkeeper Júlio César who answered his critics following his poor display against Holland in 2010 and Fred, forgotten under Mano Menezes, who was the side’s leading scorer with five goals.
However the Confederations Cup is just a start. Dunga was unceremoniously sacked after overseeing Brazil’s quarter-final elimination at the 2010 World Cup. What Scolari now has is a morale-boosting platform to head Brazil’s sixth World Cup title quest next year.