FOX Soccer Exclusive
Neymar, Brazil silence doubters again
Brazil downed Italy 4-2 in Salvador in a wild game to finish atop Group A. After a tepid first half that seemed to signal the already-qualified teams were just playing the match out, the game exploded thanks to two goals from Fred and a spectacular individual strike by Neymar.
In our other match, Mexico got their first win of the Cup in Belo Horizonte, downing Japan 2-1 thanks to a brace from Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez.
The games were essentially meaningless on Saturday. Both Mexico and Japan had already been eliminated and all Brazil and Italy had to play for was group honors.
Missing from the tournament were the protests that have struck virtually every game. While protests are continuing on Saturday across the nation, organizers decided not to march on the Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova stadium in Salvador before the Brazil match, staying in town instead. Protests are expected to continue through the duration of the Confederations Cup, though it is unclear what effect they will continue to have at this juncture.
Neymar has now scored three goals in three games, and all of them have been brilliant. Saturday’s artistry, his free kick in the 55th minute was textbook, a ball that ripped over the wall and gave Gianluigi Buffon no chance at a save. It would not prove to be the winner, but it was another example of how special this young player has been in this tournament. Neymar had faced a legion of doubters in the run-up; his performances here have been immaculate and they now leave Brazil as one of the favorites to hoist the World Cup next year.
Superstars Neymar and Mario Balotelli share a quick laugh before their match Saturday night (Photo: Claudio Villa//Getty Images).
The match didn’t kick into gear until late in the first half. After a foul-riddled 45 minutes, Dante broke the deadlock for Brazil at the stroke of halftime, turning in a parried ball from Buffon at the far post. It was Dante’s first international goal, and he wasn’t even expected to be on the field: David Luiz was forced to come off with what appeared to be a tweaked hamstring, allowing the Bayern Munich man a chance.
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After the break, the game kicked into gear. Italy quickly leveled when Emanuele Giaccherini was set loose on a Route One play. Buffon’s long outlet was backheeled forward at midfield by Mario Balotelli to spring Giaccherini on the right side. Julio Cesar was helpless as the Juventus winger fired to the far post.
But then came Neymar, and his sublime free kick. Brazil celebrated as if the game had been won – and they were almost right. The winning goal would actually come ten minutes later, when Marcelo chipped a ball out of the back to Fred. The big forward shoved aside Giorgio Chiellini and blasted his shot right through Buffon and into the roof of the net.
The game had a twist left, however. Just five minutes later, Chiellini would make amends by scoring a controversial goal at the other end; Antonio Candreva served in a corner and Balotelli was fouled in the box while Alberto Aquilani teed up Chiellini, who sunk his shot to the far post – but referee Ravshan Irmatov had blown the whistle, to award the penalty. Astonishingly, Irmatov awarded the goal instead, drawing a furious reaction from the Brazilian players. Replays showed that the whistle was in his mouth just as Chiellini struck the ball, but it was still an unusual call.
Fred would finally add some insurance in the final minute as substitue Bernard fed Marcelo for a low shot that Buffon could neither parry nor hold. He could only manage a rueful smile as Fred skipped in to chip the ball over his hopeless mitts.
In our other game, Mexico salvaged a victory at the Mineirao thanks to a pair of second half headers from Hernandez. The game was played in a good spirit despite the fact that it had no impact on the tournament.
Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre will return to Mexico with questions to answer following his side's disappointing Confederations Cup run (Photo: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images).
Hernandez was on the spot in the 54th and 66th minutes, meeting a cross from Andres Guardado for his first, then out-leaping Atsuto Uchida to head in from four yards after Hiram Mier nodded on a Gio dos Santos corner kick.
Japan got late hope when Shinji Okazaki -- possibly a shade offside -- jammed in a Kengo Nakamura pass in the 86th minute, but even the fact that Hernandez had a stoppage time penalty saved by Eiji Kawashima did not give the Asian champions enough time to get level.
The victory may lift some of the pressure off embattled Mexico coach Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre, whose team had gone over 450 minutes without scoring from open play until Hernandez struck.
The Confederations Cup group stage concludes on Sunday as Nigeria play Spain in Fortaleza and Uruguay face Tahiti here in Recife.