The 2013 Confederations Cup is in the books, and for many, the tournament certainly didn't go as expected. World champions Spain were defeated by a supposedly overrated Brazil, players who were supposed to shine simply sputtered and several unheralded stars left their marks in a big way.
It was—from start to finish—a tournament of shock and awe.
And from the opening whistle to the last, there were many big winners and losers—both on a national and individual level. Read on to see who the big winners (and losers) were of the 2013 Confederations Cup and how that impacts international football in the years ahead.
We might as well start with the biggest winner of the tournament in Brazil, who showed in their championship finish that they are definitely the real deal.
And in terms of the 2014 World Cup, they should be the favorites to win it all.
Playing with a home-ground advantage, the Auriverdes were simply outstanding from beginning to end. Led by Neymar and Fred, they were clinical in attack and showed that they are capable of threatening even the best defenses in the world from anywhere on the pitch. Moreover, they also proved their defensive solidity, with David Luiz and Marcelo both posting strong tournaments.
How much of their performances were due to the South American influence still remains to be seen, but in terms of the World Cup, it shouldn't change anything at all.
The Maracana will host the World Cup Final—just as they did the Confederations Cup—and will no doubt have the same atmosphere in 2014 if the home side are in the final once again. Which, given what we just witnessed, seems like a pretty safe bet at the moment.
As big a winner as Brazil are, Spain must be considered losers—even if they did make another international final. They showed they were beatable and susceptible to quick counterattacks—something that will have the likes of Brazil and Germany licking their lips ahead of the World Cup.
For all the dominance of Brazil, the reality is that Spain could very easily have made it a much closer final. They had a handball in the box that wasn't called, a shot saved off the line by David Luiz and a penalty miss by Sergio Ramos—all of which could, in theory, have made the scoreline 3-3.
However, at the same time, they lost to a better team, and it wasn't even close. Brazil were simply too good, and it showed over the course of 90 minutes.
One must wonder what the impact of losing Xabi Alonso was for Spain.
Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe noted earlier in the competition that the absence of Alonso (who was ruled out of the tournament due to injury) had a profound impact on La Roja's midfield, with the central corridor taking on an entirely different shape and therefore producing varying effects.
"Without Alonso deep in midfield with Sergio Busquets, Spain are more fluent than ever. ... No longer are they boring grinders, they're pure entertainers."
Their inability to turn possession into attacking chances showed in the final, and one can only wonder how different the result would have been in Vicente Del Bosque's side had they had their full attacking complement. Not to make excuses—just to note that the defending world champions were not at full strength.
It'll be fascinating to see how Alonso's presence (and likely change in midfield dynamic back to their conventional tactics) will affect Spain in Brazil next year.
They didn't win a single game, but nobody can argue with the presence of Tahiti in the winners list. Tactically poor and defensively open, the Pacific Island side came into the tournament ranked 138th in the world (well below any of their opponents), but they showed great heart and determination against superior opposition—and they were promptly rewarded for their efforts.
Jonathan Tehau managed to get his head on a corner and nab Tahiti's first goal at the Confederations Cup—creating national history and mass hysteria in the process.
But perhaps the best part of it all was the fact that they did it with a smile on their faces at all times. Which, in an age of organizational corruption, pathetic diving simulation and players abusing referees, was one of the greatest sights of them all.
Many will say that Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon had a decent tournament—shown most clearly in his triple penalty save to give Italy a third-placed finish.
But I'm not buying it completely.
Time and time again, Buffon was caught out of position and left wanting when his team needed him most. In particular, his showing against Brazil in the group stage was less than impressive, and his performance against Spain was one of the biggest reasons why Italy again fell short of an elusive trophy.
By his high standards, Buffon was surprisingly poor.
In Italy, being a goalkeeper is the hardest thing in the world, because criticism that goalkeepers suffer in general here in Italy is always negative. If I fail, they speak for four months about that error. But I guess if they talk about it so much it is because they are not used to seeing me fail. A player off the field can do whatever you (sic) want, the important thing is that on the field they give their utmost to help the other 10 players...
Enjoy the next four months then, Gianluigi.
Much will be made of Brazil's impressive performance throughout the tournament, and especially that of Neymar—something that the youngster definitely deserves.
But as good as the starlet was in the Confederations Cup, the performances of Brazil's midfield generals were even greater than that. Both Paulinho and Luis Gustavo were world-class throughout the group stage and knockout rounds and certainly cemented their places as two of the best central midfielders in world football—making them definitely big winners to emerge from the tournament.
Paulinho will have delighted Spurs fans with his combination of pace and athletic ability, and his physical presence certainly won't have gone unnoticed either in North London.
Gustavo, on the other hand, could well have earned himself a spot in Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich for next season. If Pep shifts Javi Martinez back to a central defender (like he tried to do at Barcelona), Gustavo is the most likely replacement in central midfield—and a very good option to have.
He showed that he is one of the best holding midfielders in football today.
According to the latest FIFA world rankings, Mexico are currently the No. 17 team in international football. Yet having watched the Confederations Cup—and having seen what we have this season from El Tri—you'd say that the Mexicans are nowhere near as good as their ranking suggests.
Especially when Brazil aren't even ranked inside the Top 20.
Mexico were beaten by both Italy and Brazil, but it was the manner of both of those games that will be most disappointing for Mexican fans. They offered next to nothing in attack, with Javier Hernandez unable to get any consistent service to him—leading to great frustration for the Manchester United striker.
Through their six CONCACAF qualifying games so far, Mexico have just one win to their name and are third behind the United States and Costa Rica. For a team of their caliber and supposed class, to only be two points ahead of fifth-placed Panama simply isn't good enough.
The Confederations Cup this year was a chance to change that for Mexico and prove that they are indeed a force to be reckoned with in international football.
But it just didn't happen.
If you'd suggested that the starting goalkeeper for a relegated Premier League team would not only be a Confederations Cup champion, but also goalkeeper of the tournament, you'd have been laughed out of town. And yet that was exactly what happened for Queens Park Rangers' Julio Cesar.
Cesar continued on a good season at QPR with a great Confederations Cup campaign. When Brazil's goal was threatened, Cesar was able to come up trumps and make some big saves—even in the final against Spain to ensure that the world champions did not make a spectacular comeback.
It was nothing short of a superb two-week period from Cesar.
And now, in one of the biggest transfer shocks of them all, it seems that Cesar will remain in London next year with a move to Arsenal. ESPN commentator Ian Darke said on-air that Cesar to Arsenal is a done deal and should be finalized soon—seemingly confirming what Harry Redknapp said earlier last week when he revealed Cesar would not remain at the club next season, according to talkSPORT.
Arsenal have a number of quality goalkeepers on hand, but struggled in terms of leadership at the back and consistency from their starting No. 1—something that Cesar should change instantly, even if he doesn't win the starting jersey immediately from Wojciech Szczesny.
The 2013 Confederations Cup should have been about the football.
It should have been about the wonderful counterattacking of Brazil, the masterful tiki-taka of Spain and all the individual performances that took place on the field.
However, with protests abundant off the field, the biggest story to emerge from Brazil over the past few weeks hasn't been the football. It's been about corruption, FIFA, stadium concerns, presidential popularity ratings—anything that doesn't cover football and its personnel.
For FIFA, and Blatter, that has again been a huge disappointment.
The organization desperately needs to start establishing some credibility again and should be on a high right now after the tournament. But given all that transpired off the field—and the way they've acted to spark the protests—it's hard to see FIFA emerging as a winner at all from the 2013 Confederations Cup.
FIFA—again—are a big loser from the past fortnight.
Who did you think were the Confederations Cup winners and losers?
Comment below or hit me up on Twitter: Follow @dantalintyre