A late goal from Tottenham Hotspur target Paulinho saw Brazil through to the Confederations Cup final after a tempestuous 2-1 victory over rivals Uruguay. Brazil had the better of the match without ever playing at their best, and in truth it would have been unfair on the hosts if Uruguay had managed to nick a winner. The result sees La Selecão through to their third consecutive Confederations Cup final to face either world champions Spain or European runners-up Italy; if Brazil were to win, it would be an unprecedented third title victory on the bounce.
60,000 people were packed into the Mineirão stadium in Belo Horizonte, and they weren’t disappointed as Brazil made their now-typical energetic start, with Uruguay looking to soak up pressure and break on the counter-attack. Uruguay frequently utilized the long throw provided by Maxi Pereira and it seemed to be working, with the Brazilian defense not comfortable with the direct approach apparently favored by coach Óscar Tabárez. A succession of corners were conceded, and eventually Uruguay made the hosts pay as Diego Lugano was hauled down inside the penalty area by Chelsea man David Luiz.
Veteran forward Diego Forlán, now playing for Internacional, stepped up to take the penalty but saw his low shot excellently saved by Julio César, much to the delight of the rapturous Brazilian crowd. It was starting to look as Forlán would be made to rue his miss, with Brazil taking control of the game midway through the first half, with the unconvincing Hulk blazing over after working a good opportunity and then Fred seeing his shot well blocked from a Marcelo cross.
That is not to say Brazil were completely dominant; Uruguay’s tactics of flooding the midfield seemed to be working as Brazil’s central duo didn’t see enough of the ball to feed the unusually quiet Neymar, and Diego Forlán had half-chances. There was evidence of old rivalries flaring up again as a heavy challenge from Luiz Gustavo prompted an angry crowd around the referee, but the Chilean official managed to keep things under control.
Los Charrúas appeared to have done enough to earn a draw at the halfway point, but one moment of magic from Neymar and it was all undone. The Barça starlet controlled a long ball over the top beautifully on his chest, and although his chipped shot was blocked, it fell to Fred, who scuffed a volley into the bottom corner. However, soon after the goal, there was a sign of things to come; Neymar was fouled by a Uruguayan defender, and flung himself theatrically into the air to ensure he won the free kick.
Moments into the second half, Uruguay were level. Brazil had several chances to clear the ball as it bobbled around the penalty area, but Thiago Silva opted to play a short pass to Marcelo instead of hammering it clear. The ball was intercepted by Edinson Cavani, who finished well across César into the bottom corner. Cavani hasn’t had the happiest tournament and had been better defending than he had been going forward, but more than made amends for it here with a goal against Uruguay’s bitter rivals.
Brazil seemed to take this as a reason to push forward, and Hulk stung the palms of Fernando Muslera with a free kick from around 40 yards out. Luiz Felipe Scolari made the first change, bringing on local boy Bernard, dubbed “the new Juninho (Paulista),” for Hulk. Luis Suárez flashed a header over the bar, but the 20 year-old play-maker created a chance with his first touch of the ball, driving forward then cutting back to tee up Neymar, who couldn’t find a finish.
The youngster seemed to relish representing his country in his club stadium, and the crowd were in raptures for his every touch. More fouls, dives, and yellow cards followed, but Brazil were looking the more likely to score with Uruguay again playing on the break. Cavani had a shot deflected agonizingly wide, the ball bobbling just past the post, but with four minutes to play Brazil had a deserved winner. Extra time and penalties loomed, but Neymar swung in a corner, the otherwise solid goalkeeper flapped at it and Paulinho rose above the crowd to nod in his fifth goal for Brazil and his second of the tournament.
Some gamesmanship followed, it was hard to tell whether Neymar was being kicked around or hurling himself around the pitch, and Brazil took their time over a late substitution. Goalkeeper Muslera went up for a couple of late corners but to no avail, and the joy in the stadium was apparent. The final beckons, and perhaps La Selecão can give their troubled country something to cheer about before next year’s controversial World Cup.