This was a heavily anticipated game and just about everyone hoped to see Brazil and Spain in the Confederations Cup Final. On one hand, you had Brazil, the host and the defending champions of the Confederations Cup and, on the other, Spain, the reigning champions of Europe and current champions of the FIFA World Cup. You really could not hope for a more marquee match-up. And the expectations were more than met.
The game began at a frantic pace. The fans were loud and provided great atmosphere. They did not have to wait for too long to see the first goal. It came only after 96 seconds. It was the fastest goal scored in the Confederations Cup tournament. The goal came after a bit of a scrappy play. The ball was played into the penalty area and Fred appeared to have missed it with his head but then Neymar, who was at the far post behind Fred, played it back into the danger zone in the goal kick area. Just when it seemed that Iker Casillas was going to smother the ball, Fred, who was down on the ground, somehow beat him to the ball and powered it into Spain’s goal. Spain found itself in an unlikely situation trailing 0:1 only after less than two minutes of play.
In the seventh minute, Spain shouted penalty after the ball appeared to bounce off Marcello’s arm in the penalty area but the referee did not even flinch and play continued. It seemed that the referee Bjorn Kuipers got it right, because even though the ball did touch Marcello’s arm, he did not seem to know much about it.
Meanwhile Brazil continued to press and, in the 8th minute of the game, Fred had an open shot on Casillas’ goal. His shot, however, sailed wide and Spain breathed a sigh of relief.
Brazil continued to relentlessly pursue Spanish players all over the field. They gave Spaniards no room to roam, pass or control the ball. Spain could not get into its rhythm. The temperature of the match began to rise. Both teams competed hard for the ball and tried to assert their control over the game. And when, in the 15 minute of the game, Neymar was pulled down by Spain’s Álvaro Arbeloa, the shoving and pushing between some of the players really began. The referee, however, took control over the match and quickly asserted his authority. He decided to caution Arbeloa for his cynical and tactical foul. The yellow card was appropriate here because it appeared that the ball was played too hard for Neymar to get to it before Casillas.
Brazil resolved not to allow Spain to play their usual and hypnotic passing game. They attacked Spaniards mercilessly and deep in Spain’s half of the field. Every ball was contested. These tactics were hugely successful, disrupting Spain’s passing rhythm. This aggressive approach had it risks. Indeed, in the 27th minute of the game, the referee cautioned Oscar for aggressively pursuing Iniesta, and in the process, repeatedly nipping at Andrés Iniesta’s ankles. It was the right call and at the right moment. It let the Brazilians know that they must be mindful that their aggression can, and will be punished, as appropriate.
In the 28 minute, Sergio Ramos was cautioned for clipping Oscar right outside of the penalty area. Again, the decision to award the yellow card (only) was correct as there were other defenders in the area and therefore no denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity occurred. Fortunately for Spain, Brazil’s Hulk put too much power on the ball and it harmlessly sailed over Spain’s cross-bar.
In the 32 minute, after Brazilians intercepted an errant Spanish pass, Brazil should have been up 2:0. Neymar fed a beautiful pass, in between Spanish defenders, to Fred who found himself one on one with Casillas. Casillas, however, rose to the occasion and parried Fred’s shot away.
Finally, in the 40 minute of the game, it seemed that Spain might brake through Brazil’s defense. Spain should have had a goal after Pedro’s shot beat Brazil’s Júlio César but David Luiz never gave up on the play, and denied Spain the goal by deflecting Pedro’s shot over the cross bar.
In the 44 minute, Neymar showed all why he is perhaps one of the best strikers in the world. After his initial pass on top of the penalty area, Neymar made a run into Spain’s penalty area losing his defender in the process. However, as the pass did not come immediately he also found himself in an offside position. Recognizing that he was in an offside position, Neymar halted his run and withdrew behind Spanish defenders so that when the pass eventually came to him he was even with the second to last of the Spanish defenders. It was a very close call, a very difficult call to make, but the assistant referee got it absolutely right. Once Neymar received the ball, he did not hesitate and roofed the ball into to the top corner. This was Neymar’s fourth goal in five matches.
The second half began with no personnel changes. It began as frantically as the first half. And we did not have to wait long for another goal. In fact, Fred scored the third goal of the game in the 47 minute. It was a brilliant finish. Fred received the ball after beautifully executed dummy by Neymar. Fred was right outside of the penalty area when Neymar allowed the ball to pass between his legs. Soon after he received the ball, bent, it passed diving Casillas into Spain’s goal.
It appeared that nothing was going to stop Brazil and, down 3:0, there was no way for Spain to claw their way back into the game. However, in the 54 minute of the game, Spain’s Jesús Navas was clipped in the penalty area by Marcello. It was a silly challenge, and truth be told, Navas went down to the ground quite easily. But the referee had no doubt about it and pointed to the spot. This was yet another great refereeing decision in this game especially because the referee was under immense pressure throughout the entire game. Every call he made against Brazil was greeted with crowd’s loud disapproval. It might have been a very unpopular call but it was the right call and the referee displayed his courage by pointing, without any hesitation, to the spot.
Sergio Ramos took the penalty and missed it. Spain’s nightmare continued and their chance to get back into the game slipped away. Nothing was going Spain’s way.
In the 68 minute, the game turned into a real nightmare for Spain after Spain’s Gerard Piqué was sent off for making a clumsy challenge on Neymar right outside of the penalty area. In fact, there was no intent to play the ball whatsoever. Put it simply, Piqué was badly beaten and desperately tried to prevent a one-on-one date between Neymar and Casillas. While Neymar appeared to veer slightly to the left and in the direction away from the goal when Piqué’s challenge came, given his skill and speed, the referee was absolutely justified to believe that Neymar would have gotten to the ball and take advantage of the one-on-one situation with Casillas. The red card was deservedly issued and Spain was reduced to ten men.
Spain tried desperately to get a consolation goal. In the 80th minute, Spain almost got one, but Pedro’s left footed shot from 6 yards away was saved by Júlio César. In the 85th minute, Jesús Navas made a great run through the mid field beating a couple of Brazilian defenders and then lobbed the ball into David Villa who waited for it inside the penalty area. Villa then took a nicely curving shot into Júlio César’s goal but the Brazilian was at his best and parried the ball away. Spain was going to finish this game with zero goals.
In the end, Spain could not match or handle Brazil’s intensity. Brazil displayed absolutely wonderful performance. They were stronger, faster and they overpowered Spain. They deservedly won the Confederations Cup Championship.
The game was hugely entertaining. This was also one of the best refereeing games we’ve seen this year. Every critical decision and call was correctly made. Despite the pressure and intensity, the refereeing crew excelled and discharged their duties in an exemplary fashion. We hope, and expect, to see this refereeing crew in the FIFA World Cup in Brazil.