Don't write Spain off yet
ANY doubts that Brazil are serious contenders for next year's World Cup were swept away by a majestic 3-0 victory over world champions Spain as they won the Confederations Cup in front of an ecstatic crowd at the Maracana Stadium on Sunday.
Inspired by Neymar and Fred in attack, David Luiz at the back and the indefatigable Paulinho thundering around the midfield, Brazil ended Spain's record run of 29 unbeaten competitive matches and brought back memories of their glory days with their fifth straight win of the tournament.
But how did Spain get thrashed so soundly?
One explanation for Spain's poor performance was their exhaustion after the gruelling, energy-sapping semi-final win over Italy in the heat of Fortaleza last Thursday.
Thus, on Sunday, Spain, who have dominated the world scene for the past five years with two European titles and the World Cup, suffered their biggest competitive defeat since losing 3-0 to Wales in a European qualifier 37 years ago.
Sergio Ramos, who scored in the semi-final penalty-shootout victory over Italy last Thursday, fired wide with a poor penalty after 54 minutes.
Worse was to follow when fellow defender Gerard Pique was sent off for a lunge on his new Barcelona teammate Neymar, who was named Player of the Tournament.
Ramos said later that it was just a matter of time before Spain would be beaten at a major tournament.
"We have gained a lot of important achievements and, one day, the moment has to arrive when you don't win. We aren't robots. Our conscience is clear...," the defender said in an interview.
Spain's biggest sports daily, Marca, had a different view.
It praised Brazil's superiority in concentration, speed, intensity, physical strength and football. But it also criticised the referee's lax attitude to Brazil's "continual fouls".
Football analyst Santiago Segurola wrote yesterday that Spain had come back from a Confederations Cup defeat to win the last World Cup. He predicted that the return of Xabi Alonso to Spain will fix many of the side's problems.
Indeed, it just might be too early to write Spain off.
"We had a bad night," Iker Casillas said. "But anyone thinking this team is finished should think again."
There was no doubt that Brazil played impressively.
Brazil had gone into the tournament with an indifferent set of results following the re-appointment of 2002 World Cup-winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari last November, with just two wins, four draws and a defeat from his opening seven matches.
The debate had already began over whether he was the right man for the job but his team provided an endorsement with wins over Japan, Mexico, Italy, Uruguay and, now, Spain.
Sunday's performance was the best of them all, with Fred's second-minute goal lifting the crowd and Neymar's strike raising them higher still.
After Fred scored his second of the night and his fifth of the competition in the 47th minute, sheer joy descended on the Maracana as Brazil chalked up a third successive win in the competition that FIFA uses as a test event for the following year's World Cup.
Although the performance was spellbinding, Neymar, among other players, stressed that Brazil still had a long way to go before securing an unprecedented sixth world title.
"Let's keep calm, let's keep our feet on the ground," he said. "We did very well and we are on the right track. We needed this time to train, we get to know each other and to work together and we are much better than we were."