Hosts Brazil more than lived up to their pre-tournament billing as favourites for the FIFA Confederations Cup 2013. The South Americans scored nine and conceded only two in winning all three of their group matches, impressively demonstrating a return to peak form at just the right time. The undoubted star for A Seleção was Neymar, who scored in all three games - spectacularly on a couple of occasions.
Italy claimed the second semi-final berth alongside the hosts, although the UEFA EURO runners-up were not on quite as sparkling form. The Azzurri still had too much firepower for Mexico and Japan, ultimately rendering their defeat to Brazil in the final match academic.
The Mexicans and Japanese arrived for the prestige tournament with high hopes and great ambitions, but both are already heading home after coming off second best against the nations with nine FIFA World Cup™ titles between them.
Brazil: There were magnificent moments aplenty for A Seleção throughout the group stage, but the spine-tingling pick of the bunch arose less from the play itself than from the setting prior to their meeting with Mexico. The 50,791 crowd at Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza witnessed an unforgettable and unique rendition of the Brazilian national anthem, an a cappella version giving the passionate fans at the stadium and the millions of viewers on TV a mouth-watering foretaste of what is to come at next year's FIFA World Cup. “Brazil already won the match when they sang the anthems," all-time FIFA World Cup top scorer Ronaldo commented.
Italy: Exactly 27 minutes into the opening match against Mexico, Andrea Pirlo sized up his options from a free-kick fully 30 yards from goal. Showing peerless technical skill, the veteran curled a sublime effort beyond Mexico keeper Jose Corona and into the top corner, setting the seal on an exceptional display which would earn him the Budweiser Man of the Match award. Fittingly enough, the clash with Mexico was Pirlo's 100th full international appearance, elevating him to an elite group of Italian centurions featuring only Dino Zoff, Paolo Maldini, Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluigi Buffon.
Mexico: As it turned out, the 2-1 victory over Japan in the third round of matches was more or less meaningless, as both teams were already condemned to an early journey home. However, the success was a confidence-booster at just the right time for El Tri, who are embroiled in a tough FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign. Furthermore, deadly marksman Javier Chicharito Hernandez took another step towards his personal target of becoming the nation’s all-time leading goalscorer. Thanks to a brace against the Samurai Blue and a further strike against the Italians, he is now up to third in the ranking on 35 goals, behind only legends Jared Borgetti (46 goals) and Cuauhtemoc Blanco (39). Given Hernandez is still only 25, it can surely only be a matter of time before he overtakes the pair in front of him.
Japan: More than any of the other teams, Japan have been brutally confronted with the fine line between joy and despair. In their second group match against Italy, a definite contender for the most thrilling fixture at the Festival of Champions, the Asians were 2-0 up, fell 3-2 behind, but still fought back to level 20 minutes from time. Knowing only victory could keep alive their hopes of the last four, the Japanese delighted the 40,489 crowd with a frenzied attacking display and a string of presentable chances. These culminated in two shots against the goal frame with eight minutes still to play, when Shinji Okazaki fired against the post before Shinji Kagawa headed the rebound against the bar. In an agonising final twist, Sebastian Giovinco punished the Japanese on the break shortly afterwards to make it a flattering 4-3 to the Italians and send the Samurai Blue tumbling out of the tournament.
172 - Brazil starlet Neymar scored the opening goal in the opening match after 172 seconds, adding his name to the history books in the process, although it was by no means the fastest goal at the Festival of Champions. In the 21-year history of the tournament, the striker of the same age is now third in a ranking headed by Turkey’s Tuncay Sanli (105 seconds) and Argentina's Gabriel Batistuta (150 seconds).
The last word
“When you see the fans arriving at the stadium and you soon realise what it means to them. They want to demonstrate their allegiance to their team, or country in this case. Football is different. It´s more like a religion. Growing up in Italy gave me first-hand experience of the fans´ intense love of football from an early age. And I can guarantee you it´s unique," NBA basketball legend Kobe Bryant, a spectator at Brazil versus Italy in Salvador.