Brazil won a record third successive FIFA Confederations Cup by handing world and European champions Spain their biggest defeat in a competitive match for 18 years with a 3-0 victory at a magnificently-loud Maracana.
Without doubt, the star of the show was Neymar, who produced a moment of magic in each of A Seleção’s five matches to help inspire his side to glory. The 21-year-old, who signed for Barcelona in the weeks before the tournament, followed in the footsteps of Adriano (2005) and Kaka (2009) by winning the adidas Golden Ball. He scored a wonderful goal in the Final, using his weaker left foot to fire home from a tight angle.
Earlier on the final day, extra time and penalties were needed to separate Uruguay and Italy in the match for third place in a game memorable for two fine free-kicks from Alessandro Diamanti and Edinson Cavani. It was the Italians’ second 120 minutes in 69 hours, but they battled through before eventually holding their nerve to win only their second penalty shoot-out out of seven in FIFA competitions, with Gianluigi Buffon saving three from Diego Forlan, Martin Caceres and Walter Gargano.
The Brazilian and Italian fans headed home happy on the final day, which served to whet the appetite for next year’s FIFA World Cup™. It wasn’t just a festival of champions, but a festival of football.
Brazilians get behind Tahiti, wow with anthem
This FIFA Confederations Cup began with a colourful opening ceremony which highlighted Brazil as a country where cultures have come together over the years. Tahiti in particular were given a warm welcome, the underdogs from Oceania being warmly cheered whenever they had an attempt at goal. When they found the back of the net in their opening group game against Nigeria, the roof almost came off the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte. Marama Vahirua swung in a corner from the left hand side, Jonathan Tehau pulled away from his marker Efe Ambrose, climbed highest at the far post, and planted a header beyond Vincent Enyeama into the net before the squad came together to perform a paddling celebration. It was one of the best moments of the group stage, in which the watching world was treated to some wonderful goals.
Neymar had set the tone just three minutes into the tournament when he hit a fantastic right-footed shot on the half-volley, which flew past Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima and into the top corner of the net. Andrea Pirlo marked his 100th cap with a spectacular free-kick against Mexico, which was emulated by Neymar in the final group-stage game between the two sides. Uruguay’s Forlan also marked his century with a stunning strike as the passionate Brazilian crowds watched on in admiration. It wasn't just the goals which had the home fans open-mouthed, with their rendition of the country's national anthem in Fortaleza particularly unforgettable. The 50,791 fans sang it a cappella, with former FIFA World Cup Final referee Howard Webb describing it as the most incredible thing he has heard at a football stadium.
Although Brazil 2013 was played amid the backdrop of widespread social protests, the action in the stadiums served to connect people through football and this FIFA Confederations Cup gave them plenty of talking points, most notably for the amount of goals scored. There was a quite wonderful match between Italy and Japan which ebbed and flowed before ending 4-3 to the Europeans. There was also Spain's 10-0 win over Tahiti (a tournament record, in which adidas Golden Shoe winner Fernando Torres scored four) and Brazil’s incredible 4-2 win over Italy, which gave them further momentum on the road to glory.
FIFA World Cup winners in final four
In a competition dubbed the ‘Festival of Champions’, it was fitting that the four semi-finalists were all previous winners of the FIFA World Cup. The results of the group stage gave us an all-South American affair and a European classic. Brazil took on old rivals Uruguay and Spain met Italy, a repeat of the UEFA EURO 2012 final. Brazil have not been defeated by Uruguay on home soil for over 20 years and that record continued as goals from Fred and Paulinho sent them through to the final. La Roja and Gli Azzurri played out 120 minutes of fascinating football, and a sudden-death penalty shootout was required to separate the sides. In the end, 12 consecutive penalties were converted, a FIFA tournament record. However penalty number 13 proved to be unlucky for Italy as Leonardo Bonucci blazed the ball over the bar, giving Jesus Navas a chance to book his side’s place at the Maracana, which he duly did.
And so the tournament came to a climax on a day which Brazil will never forget. Before the games, the omens looked good, with the South Americans unbeaten in Rio de Janeiro for over 60 years. However, that defeat came in a FIFA final: the 1950 FIFA World Cup final against Uruguay. The nation need not have worried. Luiz Felipe Scolari masterminded a victory over La Roja which bodes well for next year. He is building a side with flair, character and an eye for goal. However, no winners of the FIFA Confederations Cup have gone on to win the FIFA World Cup the following year. Will that run finally come to an end at Brazil 2014?
Brazil, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Spain, Tahiti, Uruguay
Host cities and stadiums
Rio De Janeiro (Estadio do Maracana), Brasilia (Estadio Nacional), Fortaleza (Estadio Castelao), Belo Horizonte (Estadio Mineirao), Salvador (Arena Fonte Nova), Recife (Arena Pernambuco)
68 (average 4.25 per match)
Fernando Torres (ESP) and Fred (BRA) – both 5.
adidas Golden Ball: Neymar (BRA)
adidas Golden Shoe: Fernando Torres (ESP)*
adidas Golden Glove: Julio Cesar (BRA)
*based on assists and minutes played
• Teams: 8
• When: 15 June 2013 – 30 June 2013
• Final: 30 June 2013
• Matches: 16
• Goals Scored: 68 (average 4.25 per match)
• Attendance: 804,659 (average 50,291)