The quality of contests in the Confederations Cup dipped slightly as the tournament entered the knock-out stages, with old enemies Brazil and Uruguay going head-to-head in Belo Horizonte.
The hosts ended up overcoming their neighbours with a late Paulinho goal and thus become the first team to enter the competition’s final match.
While we will learn the identity of their opponents following Italy’s clash with Spain tomorrow night, here are six other titbits that we at Bleacher Report picked up from the tournament’s first semifinal game.
Over the last couple of months few players identities have risen in the public psyche quicker than that of Paulinho. He's a stranger to many in Europe due to a career spent in Brazil and a handful of obscure continental outposts. However, it looks like the dynamic midfielder will soon become a household name.
His move away from Corinthians looks “imminent,” according to Pete O'Rourke of Sky Sports. The likes of Monaco and Internazionale have been linked with the Sao Paulo-born star. It may be, however, that the Premier League is to be his destination, with Tottenham Hotspur favourites for his signature.
If this tournament is anything to go by, then Spurs will be picking up a genuine asset.
Against Uruguay, he added to his recent delightful performances by scoring a late, emphatic winner. It was the goal that catapulted Brazil into the weekend’s final and it has surely made Paulinho the talk of Belo Horizonte.
With the side struggling under the expectation of supporters and Brazil ambling, unsteadily, towards an undesirable extra time, the goal came as a massive relief. How important could it prove to be, not just in the short-term context of this tournament, but in the long-term context of the development of this Brazilian team?
Goal’s Mark Doyle described Uruguay’s performance against Brazil as “gritty” which is actually being fairly generous.
The Celeste have a great tradition of turning nasty if things don’t go their way.
They aren’t adverse to the cynical or the underhanded and the nation still reveres the gritty and tenacious work of characters such as ex-Juventus hardman Paolo Montero (above) and legendary skipper Obdulio Varela.
They were their classic destructive self against Brazil, gnashing and gnawing at their exalted hosts at every opportunity. This theme in the country’s football has often formed the basis of their success and is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.
While Brazil have impressed in swathes against the Group A opposition, Mexico, Japan and Italy, there is a sense that the side isn't a finished article. The central midfield lacks creativity. The centre-forward lacks presence. The goalkeeper lacks certainty and the star player hasn't yet maintained the consistent influence that characterizes the very best.
Despite pulling off the victory here, the Selecao were hardly majestic in overcoming their neighbours and will likely need to up their game before the final.
David Luiz was mindless in pulling down Diego Lugano to give away a first-half penalty, while the team as a whole seemed to struggle with the pressure and demands of the home support.
There are encouraging signs and evidence that this current crop are developing their game under Scolari. The fullbacks switching sides in the latter stages, for example, is a potential weapon that can be used to great effect.
While Uruguay can’t match their neighbours for international status or star power, it’s easy to forget that they have two World Cups of their own. The history between these two decorated nations is immense and the geographical proximity only serves to give a ferocious edge to their animosity.
While the classic 1950 World Cup final between the two nations is the ultimate benchmark of a fractious rivalry; this most recent bout demonstrated that tensions remain stretched.
The contest was beset by many niggles and spats, with a number of cautions indicative of the bad blood.
The litany of offenses were caught by the television cameras in a glorious technicolour—Luiz Gustavo’s late follow through on Cristian Rodriguez being particularly memorable.
Neymar’s tiff with Alvaro Gonzalez was the theatrical highlight of the piece, but many players contributed to the undisputed drama on show. The world will relish the next clash between these two old enemies.
Uruguay may have struggled to hit top gear during this contest, and indeed their run to the semifinal has masked a few underwhelming performances, but there are reasons for optimism from Celeste fans.
The side look unified and well-drilled, something not necessarily guaranteed to be the case at international level. Against Brazil, one of the toughest national sides you can encounter, their defending was organised and resolute with the team clearly playing for one another.
Not least up front, where, even though the perfect balance hasn’t been achieved, the trio of Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani demonstrated their capacity to sparkle at times.
If the South American heavyweights can qualify for Brazil next summer—and it remains a big "if"—expect these three to up their game and improve their cohesion on the big stage.
While many are quick to dismiss the Confederations Cup, identifying it as a B-list tournament, the detractors, such as Bleacher Report’s Michael Cummings, can’t have helped but notice the delirium that surrounded the final whistle.
Brazil were ecstatic at having won, with both supporters and players taking the time to relish the moment of victory. Scenes of the backroom staff celebrating in unison were a microcosm of the national pride in the performance.
This land of carnival and protest is in need of a feel-good factor or two at the moment, and Brazil’s march to the Confederations Cup final might be just the tonic.