Big Phil brought back the big results, and with the biggest prize of them all looming less than a year away, Brazil's footballing hopes could hardly rise any higher.
And why not? Spain have been tamed, Neymar has come of age and the same home-field advantage will be the Seleçao's again next June and July. Brazil's resounding 3-0 victory over Spain on Sunday in the FIFA Confederations Cup final might not make them World Cup favorites, but it does mean the five-time champs are back in the picture.
Which is to say they weren't necessarily there before. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, few in their home country and abroad knew what to expect from Luiz Felipe Scolari's youthful but talented team. It didn't take long, however, for Felipao's young charges to make their first statement of intent.
Three minutes into the tournament's opening game, Neymar gave Brazil the lead against Japan with a breathtakingly lethal volley from outside the box. Swelling with passion and a sense of attacking purpose, Brazil never looked back over the next two weeks.
"I’ve just been speaking to my teammates in the dressing room about how everything is coming together and how well things are going in every sense," Neymar told FIFA.com after the win over Spain in the final. "I’m really pleased that things have ended on such a high note, with our best performance to date."
And yet, if not for Scolari's return, it might have been so different. Rehired by the Brazilian federation in late 2012, Big Phil was charged with leading Brazil back to the promised land—the World Cup title, last secured in the Far East in 2002 under Scolari's guidance.
His predecessor, Mano Menezes, led Brazil to 21 victories in the post-World Cup 2010 era but failed to win the Copa America or the 2012 Olympics. After a 2-1 loss to Argentina in November of 2012, Menezes was done.
By the end of the Confederations Cup, Brazil were clearly enjoying their football again. The most potent expression of the Seleçao's new purpose came against the mightiest of opponents and at the grandest of settings. With more than 73,000 frenzied believers willing them on, Brazil again started quickly and again took the fight to their opponents.
And this time, the rewards were a trophy gained and a dynasty dented. As B/R's Jerrad Peters wrote in his post-match report:
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.
That fun was in short supply under Menezes. Now, though, Brazil have re-earned the respect of their peers while at the same time entertaining a nation.
"Brazil were better than us and we have to congratulate them," Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque told Spanish television channel Telecinco (h/t FIFA.com).
Del Bosque added: "They had more energy than us and they channelled that into every move they made."
Brazil are having fun with their football. Not just today -- all tournament. Scolari has brought that. It was a grumpy setup under Menezes.— Jerrad Peters (@jerradpeters) June 30, 2013
Scolari's recipe proved irresistible in the Confederations Cup, and if all goes well over the next year, Brazil could rely on a similar formula to find success in the World Cup. Playing on home soil will again provide an advantage, but as players mature, Scolari's team should improve further.
The most obvious candidate for such personal growth is Neymar, the Golden Ball winner as the Confederations Cup's best player. As of this summer, the 21-year-old has not played a single season in Europe, but after signing with Barcelona in June, he's set to learn from the best, four-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi.
A pre-Barcelona Neymar was good enough to inspire Brazil to the Confederations Cup title. After a season playing with the likes of Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta in Catalonia, Neymar can only become better.
So, too, will Dante and Luiz Gustavo benefit under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich. Bayern won the UEFA Champions League as part of a historically successful 2012-13 season, and with former Barcelona boss Guardiola taking over, the Bavarian giants could be set for a spell of continental dominance.
And then there is Paulinho, who is set for a move from Corinthians to Tottenham, per BBC Sport. Playing at Tottenham won't offer the same value of Barcelona or Bayern to the midfielder, who won the Bronze Ball as the Confederations Cup's third-best player. But it will broaden his experience and, considering the Premier League's physical reputation, it could toughen Brazil's midfield.
Fred, scorer of three goals and table-setter for Neymar's stunning opener against Japan, could also be on the move this summer, with Manchester City thought to be interested, per the Daily Mail. Whether he moves, though, Brazil's talented squad is already destined to gain plenty of valuable experience over the next year.
While that might not necessarily spell doom for the rest of the World Cup field, it certainly gave Big Phil big reason to be excited for the future. And as the architect of Brazil's most recent trophy, Scolari is worth listening to when he starts speaking on the subject.
"We are still not a team that is complete. We know that we have a good group but we still have to prove a lot," Scolari told FIFA.com on Sunday. "But today, we embarked on the path to 2014."
Depending on the events of the next 12 months, it's a path that could bring Brazil back to the promised land.
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