One minute into the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 and there were two Brazilian players lying on the ground in the Spain box, one of them – Fred – reacting quicker than anyone to hook a loose ball into the net and give his side the lead.
There was another Brazilian player on the deck at the other end of the pitch as half-time approached. This time the man working wonders on the floor was David Luiz, who slid in from nowhere to intercept Pedro’s goalbound shot and divert it over the bar, keeping the home side’s 1-0 lead intact.
Those two passages of play proved vital as Brazil swept Spain aside at the Maracana on Sunday and showed the level of commitment of Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men, who challenged for every ball and turned in the kind of lion-hearted performance that every coach dreams of seeing from his players.
Luiz’s commitment was clear to see when he spoke exclusively to FIFA.com afterwards, his shorts, wristbands and anklebands stained green by the Maracana grass: “I just tried to do what I had to do stop the ball going in. I had to try.”
Fred’s prostrate heroics served a different purpose: to give Brazil a lead they would not relinquish. “You have to believe,” he told FIFA.com in another exclusive interview. “Little pieces of play like that are fantastic and show just how determined to win we were.”
Scolari’s charges were not short of belief when they walked out on the pitch. Intent on fighting for every ball, the Brazilians did just that, knocking the reigning world and two-time European champions off their stride to such an extent that there was only a four-percent difference between the teams in terms of possession, Spain enjoying a relatively low 52 per cent to Brazil’s 48.
Brazil made their task easier by getting off to the fastest of starts, Fred putting them ahead following a move in which everything seemed to happen at lightning speed. It was Hulk’s pinpoint cross from the right that caused all the confusion, with the Fluminense striker, supported by Neymar, looking to get on the end of it at the far post, with Gerard Pique and Alvaro Arbeloa for company.
What happened next is best left to the goalscorer himself. Though yet to see a replay of the goal, he had a very clear picture of how it all unfolded.
“It all happened very quickly,” he said. “I got my head on the ball and then it got away from me. Then I collided with Pique, but even as I was falling I kept my eye on what was going on, hoping to pick something up. The ball hit Neymar and Sergio Ramos’ hand (it was in fact Arbeloa’s hand) and dropped down next to me. I was on the ground and I scored. Even if you’re on the floor and don’t have much power, you have to stay alert. It rolled free and I was able to get it over Casillas. It wasn’t easy at all, but I managed to get my foot under the ball and put it in the back of the net.”
Having seen it all unfold from yards away, David Luiz offered his version of Brazil’s opening goal: “I believed in him because I know him and I know how much of a fighter he is. He doesn’t give up. Only a matador could score a goal like that. He was lying face down and he still managed to score.”
Putting it on the line
As half-time approached, with Brazil having passed up several opportunities to extend their lead, Spain worked their best opening of the first half. Set free by a fine Fernando Torres pass, Juan Mata scampered down the left flank and sent a crossfield pass into the path of the unmarked Pedro. After bringing the ball under control, the Barça forward slipped it past Julio Cesar and seemingly on its way to the back of the net, at which point Luiz slid in to somehow scoop the ball to safety.
Reliving his miraculous clearance, the Chelsea defender revealed that there was more to it than lightning reactions and nimble footwork: “It was more a case of me reading the situation,” he said. “When I saw Pedro get on to Mata’s pass, I knew that he’d try to shoot past the keeper and that Julio Cesar would try to close down the angle on Pedro’s right. I know him pretty well and I’ve seen him lots of times. He’s a great player. I knew he might try to put the ball there and that’s how I was able to read the game and make the interception.”
The two players had a brief chat as they left the field of play at half-time, the Brazilian telling his Spanish opponent that he was able to anticipate what was going to happen because he admired the way he played and knew his game.
Returning Luiz’s compliments, Fred gave his version of his team-mate’s last-ditch heroics: “It felt like a goal to us. We all went back in celebrating, hugging each other and congratulating him. It just goes to show that you have to stay switched on. Strikers have to watch out for the loose ball and defenders have to give it all they’ve got to save goals.”