Heading into Sunday’s Confederations Cup final in Brazil, the host nation was the defending Confed Cup champions. Brazil won the last two tournaments, actually. But its opponent was the mighty Spain — reigning world champion and winners of 29 straight matches.
But in the final Confed Cup match, none of that mattered. Brazil dominated España, 3-0, to win its third straight title and set up an epic 2014 World Cup (also hosted by Brazil).
Brazil got on the board early, thanks to a goal by Fred 90 seconds into the match. The score ignited the hometown crowd at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, and sent Brazil into clampdown mode.
A smothering effort from Brazil’s defense locked the score at one-nil until, just minutes before halftime, Neymar added his fifth goal of the tournament with a powerful left-footed shot past the outstretched hands of Spain’s goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
The hosts didn’t let up following the break, using some fancy footwork from Hulk and a smooth shot into the bottom corner from Fred, his fifth of the tournament, to secure a 3-0 advantage.
Brazil’s suffocating defense frustrated Spain all match and caused the defending world champs to lose focus. In the 68th minute, Spain’s Pique earned a red card for carelessly tackling Neymar as he tried to skirt around him towards the box.
As the final minutes wore on and the outcome became obvious, deafening chants of “The champion is back!” rained down from the stands to start a celebration that carried into the late hours.
Entering the Confed Cup, Brazil was ranked 22nd in the world and had mild expectations for the tournament. Now, the squad looks to the 2014 World Cup when it tries to become the first team to follow a Confed Cup victory with a World Cup title.
"We know that the tournament that we will be playing next year will be a lot more difficult,'' Luiz Felipe Scolari, Brazil’s coach, said. "Now we have more confidence. That's what we needed.''
Photo: Thiago Silva of Brazil celebrates with trophy after victory in the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 Final match between Brazil and Spain at Maracana on June 30, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Stuart Franklin - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)