Brazil firmly put themselves in discussion of the 2014 World Cup favorites after their 3-0 demolition of Spain in the 2013 Confederations Cup final Sunday night in Rio de Janeiro.
Although Brazil were the host, OptaJoe noted how difficult a task it would be to knock off La Roja.
The Selecao wasted little time in getting the early advantage, though, at the Maracana.
Two minutes in, Fred poked the ball in to put Brazil up, 1-0. It was not the kind of goal you'd associate with beautiful Brazilian football. Hulk delivered in a cross from the right that Gerard Pique and Alvaro Arbeloa failed to deal with. As the ball was bouncing around, Fred took a tumble and knocked it in with his right while on the ground.
You have to give Fred a lot of credit for reacting so quickly and being able to get it in past Iker Casillas.
It was the quickest goal Spain have ever conceded with Vicente del Bosque as coach.
Things didn't go much better for Spain from there. Brazil were the aggressors and gave not even an inch to the visitors. It was a bit of the same game plan Cesare Prandelli used to help Italy hang with La Roja and almost get the win in the semifinal.
Luiz Felipe Scolari sent his players out with the express purpose of hounding Spain whenever they had the ball, and then using Hulk and Neymar out wide to break quickly. It was a strategy that worked to perfection in the first half.
Even with Brazil's brilliance in the attack, perhaps the best play of the first half came when David Luiz cleared a shot off the line in the 40th minute. Pedro was bearing down on goal and looked sure to score. He managed to place it past Julio Cesar and headed for the bottom left corner. That was, until Luiz came from nowhere to slide in and eliminate the threat.
Rory Smith of The Times wonders if the play will do something to silence some of Luiz's critics.
Arguably the player of the tournament heading into the game, it was only appropriate that Neymar scored in the final. And what a goal it was. It was so impressive if only for the sheer force of will the young prodigy used. Neymar's left-footed effort flew right over the head of Casillas.
That was Neymar's seventh goal in nine matches, and fourth of the tournament after he scored once in each of Brazil's three group stage matches.
It was a monumental goal in terms of how it put Spain in a situation it hadn't seen in years, per OptaJose.
That was the last real action of the first half in what was 45 minutes of dominance for Brazil. They looked phenomenal on both ends of the pitch.
Two minutes into the second half, it was Fred again who found the back of the net. It was a smooth, well-placed finish and a good attacking move from Brazil.
Now a three-goal gap, the score essentially ended any chance Spain would have in its comeback effort.
In the 54th minute, La Roja were given a lifeline, when Jesus Navas was fouled in the box by Marcelo. The referee pointed to the spot, and it was a penalty shot for Spain.
Sergio Ramos, of all people, stepped up to take the kick. As you'd expect from a centre-back, Ramos missed, firing it wide left.
Spanish paper AS wondered why Ramos was the player chosen to take the kick.
Pique made things go from bad to worse when he was sent off for a foul on Neymar. There will be plenty arguing that the foul only deserved a yellow. However, it was a clear and silly foul, as Neymar was bearing down on goal. Pique and Spain didn't have much of an argument to make.
The Dirty Tackle's Brooks Peck tried to get in the mind of Pique.
Brazil looked sure to make it 4-0, but had to settle for beating the reigning world champions by just three goals.
It was shocking just how poor Spain were in this match. It was a match very similar to Barcelona's two legs against Bayern Munich in the Champions League this past season. La Roja looked tired and were thoroughly outclassed by a far superior opponent on the night.
ESPN's Paul Carr noted that Spain had won 26 competitive matches coming in.
Coming into the match, Brazil were right there with Spain as one of the best teams in the tournament. They're deserved winners after a bravura performance. FIFA announced the major award winners on Twitter. It doesn't come as a huge surprise that Neymar won the Golden Ball.
After this match, the 2014 World Cup can't come soon enough.
Neymar, Brazil: A
What else can be said about Neymar in this match?
He was fantastic going forward and made Alvaro Arbeloa look like an amateur. The winger was a constant threat down the left for Brazil and contributed in just about every facet in the match. Neymar was under a lot of pressure coming into the Confederations Cup, and he's managed to actually exceed expectation.
Is there anybody doubting his talent now?
Fred, Brazil: A+
Fred was your prototypical No. 9 in the win. Coming into the tournament, it looked like Brazil had strong players out wide in the attack, with Neymar and Hulk, yet lacked a world-class centre-forward, relying on Fred.
The 29-year-old did about as much as he could in this tournament to bolster his resume. Fred was tremendous, getting into position and making the most of his chances.
Gerard Pique, Spain: D+
There was a period of time when Gerard Pique was one of, if not the best, centre-back in the world. He looks like a shadow of that player now, though.
The Guardian's Jacob Steinberg is quite surprised at just how far Pique has fallen.
He made a mess of Brazil's first goal, both losing his man and the ball. Then, the foul on Neymar was mistimed and poorly executed. Pique needs to get out of whatever funk he's in, because he's still got plenty of time to regain the form he showed a couple of years ago.
|Julio Cesar ||B
|Dani Alves ||B
|David Luiz ||B+
|Thiago Silva ||B
|Luiz Gustavo ||B
|Paulinho (off '87) ||A-
|Hulk (off '73 ||B
|Fred (off '80) ||A+|
|Iker Casillas ||C
|Alvaro Arbeloa (off '46) ||D
|Sergio Ramos ||C-
|Gerard Pique (sent off '68) ||D+
|Jordi Alba ||C-
|Sergio Busquets ||C
|Andres Iniesta ||C
|Juan Mata (off '52) ||C-
Fernando Torres (off '59) ||D+
|Cesar Azpilicueta ||C-
|Jesus Navas ||B-
Spain still have to be considered the early favorites for the 2014 World Cup. While they looked poor in this match, La Roja still have a ton of talent. The Under-21 side is fresh off a victory at the European U-21 Championship. Perhaps it's better that del Bosque sees his side's issues now, so he's got enough time to rectify them.
This is the last competitive match Brazil will play before the World Cup. They looked great throughout the entire tournament in capturing their fourth Confederations title. If they can play this well, Brazil have a very good chance of lifting the World Cup trophy at home.