Brazil produced a breathtaking performance at the Maracana to overwhelm Spain and claim their third consecutive Confederations Cup title.
Driven on by the passion of a fiercely partisan crowd, the five-time world champions signalled their intent ahead of next summer’s World Cup by ending Spain’s 29-match unbeaten record with a majestic display.
Fred scored twice, but Neymar again stole the show, scoring Brazil’s second goal with a rasping left-foot shot.
To compound Spain’s misery, Sergio Ramos missed a second-half penalty before Gerard Pique was sent off for bringing down Neymar as last man, with 22 minutes remaining.
At the final whistle, the Brazil fans proudly chanted ‘the champions are back’. With David Luiz and Thiago Silva providing solidity at the back, the midfield generalship of Paulinho and the mercurial talents of Neymar in attack, the Selecao will certainly be a formidable proposition next year.
The streets around the Maracana had been a place of contrasts in the hours before the game. While protestors clashed with police a mile or so away, tens of thousands of Brazil fans danced in the streets.
The noise built to an incredible crescendo in the hour before kick-off, culminating with the Brazilian anthem, that stirred the passions of the partisan crowd.
History, too, was against Vicente Del Bosque’s Spanish side. Brazil have not lost a competitive match on home soil since 1975 and you have to go back to 1934 to find the last time Spain had beaten them in a competitive match, home or away.
If Spain had dreamt of conjuring an early goal that might take the sting out of the mighty Maracana, they were made to think again by a Brazil side that pressed and probed and, carried on by the sheer emotion inside the stadium, snatched the lead inside two minutes.
Hulk’s cross from the right was knocked down by Neymar at the back post. Fred lost his footing but as the ball came back his way, he swung a boot at it from the ground, lifting the ball up and over Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas and into the net.
Spain, normally so calm and controlled, briefly lost their way. Oscar fired narrowly wide from a fantastic chance, while Casillas scrambled back to claw Paulinho’s deft lob from under his crossbar.
Brazil pressed Spain with an intensity that has become their own hallmark in recent times. They attacked with a fluency and flair that unsettled the world champions and that left Pique and Ramos flummoxed time and time again.
On two occasions during the first half, Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers decided against sending Spain defenders off after first Neymar and then Oscar were tripped when through on goal. Both Ramos and Alvaro Arbeloa were show yellow cards, much to Brazil’s frustration.
Spain did create chances, but Andres Iniesta forced a save from Julio Cesar. Indeed, the Barcelona midfielder was at the heart of Spain’s few constructive moments. He started the move that saw Torres’s reverse pass free Jordi Alba who in turn found Pedro only for David Luiz to appear from nowhere and slice a shot that was rolling into the net, high over the bar to safety.
Brazil were finding the strength to block crosses, charge down shots and they attacked with cohesion and confidence. Hulk sent Fred through on goal only for Casillas to come to Spain’s rescue.
But Brazil would not be denied. With half-time approaching, they poured forward again, this time with Neymar. The 21-year-old exchanged passes with Oscar, cleverly coming back onside, took one touch and fizzed a left-foot shot high beyond Casillas and into the net.
The Maracana rose to acclaim their boy wonder as one, but Spain looked shell-shocked as the celebrations continued all around them.
Spain were desperate to hear the half-time whistle. But even that brought only 15 minutes of respite. They were booed as they re-emerged onto the pitch and within two minutes they were three behind, as Fred rolled a delightful first-time finish beyond Casillas to twist the knife.
Nothing was going Spain’s way. Even when they won a penalty when Marcelo flicked a leg at substitute Jesus Navas, Ramos pulled his shot tamely wide, much to the delight of the Maracana. It was a moment that encapsulated Spain’s evening.
The world champions continued to push, with Pedro twice drawing top-class save from Cesar late on before the hosts lifted the trophy.