Brazil survived a major examination of their credentials at the hands of Uruguay to move into the final of the Confederations Cup courtesy of a late winner from Paulinho. Uruguay worked tirelessly throughout the keenly contested last four meeting in Belo Horizonte and looked set to take the hosts all the way to extra time after goals from Fred and Edinson Cavani within seven minutes either side of half-time left the match finely in the balance at 1-1.
But with just four minutes left on the clock, Paulinho escaped his marker form a corner to head Brazil into a meeting with either Spain or Italy on Sunday.
Brazil will know that they were given by far their biggest test of the competition, however. Uruguay played far better than the vast majority of the performances they have produced since winning the Copa America in 2011. Oscar Tabarez’s side frustrated Brazil throughout and could have caused further trouble had Diego Forlan converted an early penalty, but ultimately the Selecao prevailed, albeit in far from spectacular fashion. But that will not bother Luiz Felipe Scolari one bit as he focuses on building a winning mentality ahead of next year’s World Cup back on home soil. The result carries particular significance too given the heartbreak Uruguay inflicted in capturing the Jules Rimet trophy at the Maracana in 1950 on the only other occasion that the tournament has been held in Brazil.
That may trauma may have been on the mind too as, unlike in their three group games, where they have come storming out the blocks and piling the pressure on the opposition, this time the occasion appeared to get to an inexperienced Brazil side. Their shaky beginning to the match was also precipitated by Uruguay’s tactics. Tabarez set his side up to press high up and restrict the space for the likes of Neymar and Oscar.
And Brazil’s discomfort may well have played a part in them gifting Uruguay a penalty after just 13 minutes. Certainly, it is difficult to come up with another rational explanation for David Luiz’s decision to blatantly drag Diego Lugano to the ground in the box as a corner was swung over. The referee took the simple decision to award the spot kick and also booked the defender to ensure that he wouldn’t be featuring in the final. But David Luiz and Brazil were given a huge let off when Julio Cesar guessed the right way and tipped Forlan’s low spot-kick past the post.
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Still, Uruguay continued to confound Brazil. The South American champions were also looking to win the ball in advanced areas and strike quick on the counter, particularly by taking advantage of Brazil’s full-backs being out of position. Forlan almost atoned for his miss when his shot on the turn on the edge of the area just missed the corner of post and crossbar.
As the half moved through its halfway point, Brazil were beginning to make better use of their possession and create signs of an opening. On 37 minutes Fred was just thwarted at the near post by a good intervention from Godin following Marcelo’s low cross.
Just four minutes later the former Lyon striker would not be denied a seventh goal in nine games under Scolari. Paulinho was the architect with a sublime pass over the top for Neymar to control superbly on his chest before seeing his near-post effort blocked at the near post by Fernando Muslera. But the ball would fall to Fred, who then got his second moment of fortune with an effort that came off his shin and found the corner of the net to evade defenders on the line.
The opening goal might have been expected to ease the nerves within the Brazil camp, but it had no such impact. Almost immediately some poor defending led to a golden chance for Suarez, but the Liverpool fired wide of the post. There was to be no such reprieve just three minutes after the restart.
In an extraordinary sequence of hapless defending, David Luiz, Thiago Silva and Marclo all blundered attempts to clear the ball and Cavani finally stepped in and found the bottom corner of the net with a left-foot shot that, like Fred’s was far from the sweetest struck of his career.
The goal gave Uruguay increased impetus and they might have gone ahead midway through the second half had Suarez made proper contact with a free-kick from six yards out. That may have been what shocked Brazil into life as they then went on to produce their best spell of the match. It also coincided with the introduction of local favorite Bernard.
The Atletico Mineiro youngster almost made an immediate impression when he faked past a defender on the right before picking out Fred on the volley but the ball sailed just over the bar from 16 yards. An even better combination soon arrived with Neymar received a back-heel from Oscar in the box, but the forward’s shot was ultimately saved comfortably by Muslera.
Once again, though, Neymar would play a crucial part in Brazil’s success. Uruguay having defended so well for almost 85 minutes, switched off crucially right at the death. With the corner swung over from the new Barcelona signing, Martin Caceres found himself underneath the ball at the far post and Paulinho got up superbly to head inside the post and send his teammates into raptures and onto a chance to lift the trophy in the Maracana.