Brazil beat Spain 3-0 to win its third straight Confederations Cup, closing a tournament that will be remembered as much for events off the field as Neymar’s emergence as potential match-winner at next year’s World Cup.
Fred scored at the start of each half in yesterday’s final, either side of Neymar’s fourth goal of the soccer competition, as Brazil ended Spain’s world record 29-game unbeaten run in competitive matches. Outside Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium, police and demonstrators clashed as the tournament continued to provide a backdrop for Brazil’s biggest protests in two decades.
“It’s a bit difficult to talk about the fights taking place,” the 21-year-old Neymar, who was named as the player of the tournament, told reporters last night. “This is something bad, many people can get hurt and injured. The celebrations were for the people inside the stadium.”
President Dilma Rousseff was jeered at the opening game on June 15 and since then Brazilians have taken to the streets in record numbers to protest poor public services and political corruption in a movement that started as a revolt against bus fare prices. Some of the protesters have complained about the 30 billion reais ($13.4 billion) the country is spending on hosting the 2014 World Cup, and related projects.
Armed police on horseback and motorcycles along with more than a dozen truckloads of soldiers were present yesterday as Brazilian authorities sought to ensure there was no threat to the final. Tear gas and rubber bullets had been used against protesters in all six venues for the Confederations Cup, an eight-team test event for the global championship.
The 11,000-person security detail for yesterday’s game, which included military police and the armed forces, couldn’t prevent two demonstrators from emerging from soccer ball-shaped umbrellas to unfurl a banner demanding the privatization of the Maracana be scrapped. Outside the 78,838-seat stadium, police dispersed about 1,000 demonstrators using tear gas, the odor of which wafted through the stadium early in the first half.
Rousseff, whose approval rating fell 27 percent to 30 percent since the protests began three weeks ago, skipped the game, leaving sports minister Aldo Rebelo to represent the government at the presentation ceremony. Protesters have dubbed the competition the “Demonstrations Cup.”
While the Brazilian leader’s popularity has tanked, the national soccer team’s stocks have risen. The record five-time world champion entered the event with a ranking of 22, its lowest since governing body FIFA started grading national teams in 1992.
Led by Neymar, who completed a $75 million move to Barcelona in May, Brazil’s win over world and European Spain capped a run of five straight victories at the tournament. It also extended the team’s unbeaten home record in competitive games stretching back to 1975.
“Nobody expected such an emphatic result, not against the world champions,” Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said in a news conference. “This is more than a title because we’ve shown that we’re on the right path and that we can now take a little more confidence with us as we travel down it.”
Buoyed by an ear-piercing rendition of the Brazilian national anthem, the home team was ahead within two minutes. Fred prodded past Iker Casillas while lying on his back after Spain failed to clear when Neymar sent the ball into the box.
“The Champion is Back,” chanted the crowd as play resumed.
Neymar and Fred, assisted by Oscar, continually stretched their opponents. The home team was incensed when referee Bjorn Kuipers showed Alvaro Arbeloa only a yellow card when Neymar looked like going clear on goal after 15 minutes. That followed a miss from Oscar after Fred’s flick gave him a shot at goal, while Fred was denied by Casillas’s block with his left foot.
Spain nearly tied it five minutes before half time, when David Luiz slid to clear Pedro Rodriguez’s shot as it went toward goal. Moments later, Neymar scored with a powerful shot into the roof of the net after collecting Oscar’s pass.
“The moment of our victory was when he saved that goal,” Scolari said of Luiz’s intervention.
Fred added Brazil’s third in the 47th minute with a first-time shot from the corner of the penalty area, which took his tally to a tournament-leading five goals alongside Spain’s Fernando Torres.
Sergio Ramos missed a penalty for Spain eight minutes later and the Spaniards went a man down with 22 minutes left when Gerard Pique was shown a red card for fouling his new Barcelona teammate Neymar.
“Obviously this defeat hurts, but I think deep down that we’ve had a good Confederations Cup,” said Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque. “We have a good team, good players and a good system of playing. We are not going to change everything because of one defeat.”
Brazil’s players danced following their win, repeating their celebrations after the 2009 Confederations Cup final in South Africa. They failed to convert that triumph into a World Cup title 12 months later.
A victory on home soil in next year’s World Cup final would make Brazil the first Confederations Cup holder to win soccer’s biggest prize.
“I can’t feel any better than how I feel,” Scolari added. “The players are motivated because they receive from these supporters this drive.”