The crowd at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium was noisy, hoping for and maybe even anticipating a triumph by Brazil.
The Selecao rewarded the fans with a comprehensive victory over the best national team of the 21st century, an ego-boosting 3-0 smothering of world champion Spain in the Confederations Cup final Sunday.
Winning the Confederations Cup was nice, yes.
But Brazil is focusing on the really big prize: the World Cup that it hosts next year.
“We know that the tournament that we will be playing next year will be a lot more difficult,” Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said. “Now we have more confidence. That’s what we needed.”
In the stadium that will host the 2014 World Cup final, Fred put Brazil ahead in the second minute, Neymar doubled the lead in the 44th with his fourth goal of the tournament and Fred added his fifth in the 47th.
While there was a crowd of 73,000 in the renovated stadium, protesters outside clashed with riot police on the final night of the two-week tournament.
“Brazil has shown to the world that this is the Brazilian national team and that we must be respected,” said 21-year-old Neymar, awarded the Golden Ball as the tournament’s top player. “I think that today we had a great victory against the best team of the world, with some of the best players in the world.”
In a matchup of new and old powers, the five-time world champion defeated the reigning world and European champion and ended Spain’s 29-match, three-year winning streak in competitive matches.
“We are happy with what we have done over the last few years,” Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque
said. “But one loss — you have to look at it, but not overreact to it. We are not content with the loss. But when a team is superior, you have to accept it. It was a deserved defeat.”
Brazil won its third consecutive Confederations Cup and has not lost a competitive home match since 1975. Yet, no reigning Confed Cup winner has gone on to capture the following year’s World Cup.
Spain, which had not lost a competitive game since its 2010 World Cup opener against Switzerland, had a miserable night.
Sergio Ramos sent a penalty kick wide in the 55th and defender Gerard Pique was ejected by Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers with a straight red card for fouling Neymar in the 68th.
Eliminated in the quarterfinals of the past two World Cups, the Selecao entered the tournament having not played a competitive match since the 2011 Copa America. Brazil had slipped to 22nd in the FIFA rankings.
Spain, ranked first for 20 months, is the most accomplished national team of recent decades, winning its first World Cup in 2010 between 2008 and 2012 European championships.
Spain had been unbeaten in 26 matches overall, including friendlies, since a 1-0 loss to England in London in 2011 and had outscored opponents in competitive matches, 69-11, since a loss to Switzerland in the South Africa World Cup.
But Spain had not played Brazil since a 1999 exhibition, and they hadn’t met in a competitive match since the Selecao’s 1-0 win in the first round of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
Spain’s best chance before the penalty came with Pedro Rodriguez in the 41st minute when he entered the area clear from defenders on a breakaway.
His low shot beat keeper Julio Cesar, but defender David Luiz came rushing in and slid in front of the goal line just in time to deflect the ball over the crossbar.
Third-place match: Gianluigi Buffon saved three penalty kicks in the shootout and undermanned Italy edged Uruguay 3-2 in the shootout to secure third place at the Confederations Cup following a 2-2 draw in Salvador, Brazil.