Spain were given a footballing lesson on Sunday, comprehensively beaten by Brazil in the final of the 2013 Confederations Cup.
Nearly 5,000 miles away from home, the reigning world and European champions had the look of a team as foreign as they actually were. With a cauldron of sound bearing down on them from more than 73,000 fans inside the Maracana, they simply couldn’t get back down the tunnel fast enough.
Yet this match was not about Spain, not about another trophy for an exceptional group of players and not about a stylistic preference that was blown to bits by action heroes in yellow and white.
If Sunday taught us anything, it’s that dynasties, no matter how hard-won and long-lasting, can fall in an instant; that close-passing, almost robotic football can still be conquered by expressiveness and a sense of fun.
It took Brazil less than two minutes to strike the first blow in their assault on Spanish dominance.
Having started the match with an obvious sense of purpose, the tournament hosts took the lead in the early going. Fred, having fallen to his backside, managed to slice the ball past a diving Iker Casillas with his free right leg after Hulk had placed a dangerous ball across the face of goal.
Brazil continued to attack in numbers as Spain weathered the early barrage. While they might have expected their opponents to tire after making such an intense, energetic start to the match, they soon found themselves up against a force that could only have been mustered in this stadium, on this night.
While demonstrators marched in their thousands outside the ground protesting World Cup investment at the expense of social infrastructure, their countrymen inside the stadium combined their frustrations with FIFA and the Brazilian government with a loud, passionate support for the players on the pitch.
Once again, the Brazilian players and fans continued to sing the national anthem long after the music stopped playing. And with every score you could see in their celebrations that something bigger than a football match was taking place at the Maracana.
Spain, faced not only with a capable opponent but a new, rising Brazilian middle class making its voice heard, quite understandably trembled.
Neymar, the hero of this Selecao, doubled Brazil’s advantage with just a minute to play in the first half, running cleverly into the left-hand channel to receive Oscar’s delicate pass before roofing a confident finish past a helpless Casillas.
Naturally, Spain would have their moments. But despite superior numbers in both possession and pass completion, they struggled to create many meaningful openings.
Barcelona forward Pedro, whom Neymar will be joining at Camp Nou later this summer, came closest to finding the back of the net for the European side. His well-placed shot to the far post looked to have Julio Cesar beaten, but at the last possible moment David Luiz launched himself at the goal line and swept the danger away.
If Spain manager Vicente del Bosque made any tactical alterations during the break, they were almost immediately made worthless just moments after the restart when Brazil took the 3-0 lead that would be the final score.
Once again it was Fred who bulged the net behind Casillas, and once again Neymar was involved—smartly allowing Hulk’s cross from the right to pass behind him and onto Fred’s boot, which delivered a precise shot that beat the Spain goalkeeper inside the far post.
Seven minutes later, La Roja were handed a lifeline when Marcelo fouled Jesus Navas inside the area, sending Sergio Ramos to the spot. But the Madrid defender sent his effort wide of goal, and as the ball sailed past the post, it began to set in that a changing of the guard was at hand.
Neymar, who had troubled the high Spanish back line throughout the encounter, caused Gerard Pique to commit a red card offense against him in the 68th minute. From there, Brazil coasted to a historic win and third successive Confederations Cup triumph.
Meanwhile, the protests on the streets raged on—an important, reality-altering action that announced a new social stratum for one of the world’s fasted-developing countries. That the Selecao lifted the Confederations Cup while all this was going on was more than a happy coincidence. It was part and parcel of a Brazil as vigorous and passionate on the field as off it.