While the Confederations Cup perhaps lacks the prestige and attention that a World Cup or European Championship receives, one thing this summer's tournament has definitely not lacked is quality.
That trend continued into the 2013 Confederations Cup semifinals these past two days, where superstar names and talent filled the pitch. In a so-called "warm-up" tournament to next year's World Cup, Uruguay, Brazil, Italy and Spain battled it out on Wednesday and Thursday to claim a place in the tournament's final, which will be held on Sunday.
In the first semifinal, Brazil and Uruguay met in Belo Horizonte in a battle of South American teams. Going into the match, Brazil was an overwhelming favorite, not to mention that the team had the support of the home crowd behind them.
However, Uruguay put up the fight of their lives.
In the opening minutes, Uruguay was without a doubt the better side. They had crisper passing, were more energetic and confused the Brazilian attack that features the tournament's best player in Neymar. That domination was rewarded in the 13th minute.
After David Luiz was booked for pulling down Diego Lugano in the box, Uruguay's Diego Forlan had a chance to put his team ahead from the penalty spot. However, when Forlan shot low and hard to Julio Cesar's left, the Brazilian goalkeeper dove down and made a somewhat-comfortable save, keeping the game scoreless.
That said, the game did not remain that way for much longer.
In the 41st minute, Neymar went in on Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera after a beautiful take on his chest, Fred pounced on Neymar's rebound to put the Brazilian side up 1-0 minutes before halftime and send the crowd into a frenzy.
However, Uruguay's response in the second half could not have been better. Edinson Cavani took advantage of sloppy defending and clearances from Brazil's back line. Just seven minutes after halftime, the game was all squared at one.
After a long period of play in which Brazil dominated possession but could not seem to find the finishing touch, the game seemed destined to go into extra time.
That was until a moment of brilliance in the 86th minute.
As Neymar floated in a corner to the back post, Paulinho rose above Martin Caceres to meet the ball and bury it into the back of the net.
The Brazilians made the goal stand with last-ditch defending and managed to hold on for a 2-1 victory—and a place in the Confederations Cup final on Sunday.
Meanwhile, in the second semifinal, Italy met reigning World Cup and European champions Spain in a rematch of last summer's UEFA European Championship final.
While the Spaniards completely out-classed the Italians in that contest, winning by a score of 4-0, this one was a different story.
With Italy relying on their usual solidifying defense and counterattacking style, Spain stuck to their short passes and possession game.
However, neither team could find a breakthrough goal despite playing their typically successful style of play. Without many scoring opportunities, the game finished 0-0 through regulation time and was forced to go into extra time.
That was when things started to open up a bit.
In the 93rd minute, Italy's Emanuele Giaccherini struck the near post with a shot and just moments later Spain's Jordi Alba volleyed high over Gianluigi Buffon's goal from close range.
Maybe the best chance of the game came in the 115th minute, when Xavi fired from long rage, only for Buffon to deflect it off of his post and take the game into penalties.
Despite both teams being visibly exhausted, Italy and Spain confidently scored each penalty through the first six rounds.
However, with their seventh penalty, Italy's Leonardo Bonucci fired over the crossbar to put Spain on the brink of a birth in the final on Sunday to face the hosts Brazil.
Jesus Navas did just that, burying his penalty to Buffon's right and ending the game for good.
And so the 2013 Confederations Cup final is set, with Spain squaring off against Brazil on Sunday in Rio de Janeiro.
Whether it was Brazil's Paulinho sending the host nation into the final with a last-minute goal, Buffon making several incredible saves against the reigning World Cup champions or Bonucci missing the only penalty in the shootout, the semifinals of this summer's Confederations Cup had its fair share of dramatic moments.
Now, have your say! What do you think were the game-changing moments of the semifinals? Give me your opinions as well as predictions for Sunday's final between Spain and Brazil in the comment thread below!
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