COMMENTARY | With mass protests and tear gas in the streets, Brazil may not appear to be the best place to host a World Cup. Inside the stadiums, however, there is no place like Brazil. Every time the Selecao stands for the national anthem, Brazilians scream their song and generate chills in living rooms across the globe.
The crowds have exuded personality and energy throughout the Confederations Cup, and the World Cup dress rehearsal has provided significant promise for the host nation.
When the ball is in play, one player in particular serves as the primary catalyst in sparking the wave of Brazilian support. That player, obviously, is Neymar. His poignant play may be the lasting memory from the 2013 Confederations Cup, but the true voice of the crowd comes from its confidence in the team. That confidence has a great deal to do with the discovery of Paulinho.
Tales of Paulinho's quality had traveled across the Atlantic Ocean before this summer, but his play during the Confederations Cup may well spark a bidding war the moment this tournament ends. He has been critical to Brazil's success in every game he has played.
In the semifinal against Uruguay, Brazil's first plan of attack was blunted by Uruguay's neutralizing tactics. Diego Forlan and company did not deserve to be down by a goal at the half, but Forlan's soft penalty could not beat Julio Cesar early in the match.
Minutes before the break, Neymar accepted the ball on the left side of midfield, a position he often occupies. He passed the ball off to Paulinho, who received the pass 10 yards into Uruguay's half. Brazil had not pleased to that point, so its two best players combined to ignite a nervous and weary crowd.
One of Neymar's greatest qualities is his ability to start and complete blistering runs with and without the ball. As he dropped the ball off of Paulinho, Neymar curled into a full sprint. Paulinho immediately floated a ball that perfectly landed on Neymar's chest behind Uruguay's defense.
Neymar's first touch was exquisite, but his flick was not able to beat Fernando Muslera, Uruguay's keeper, from a tight angle. Fortunately, Fred was waiting in the middle of the box to finish off the chance and put Brazil up before the half. The goal was conceived by Neymar and Paulinho, but Fred delivered the final touch. As a note, all three players involved played their club football in Brazil last season.
Uruguay promptly responded following the half. Edinson Cavani pounced onto a sloppy clearing job by the Brazilian defense to level the score at 1-1.
Brazil still lacked fluidity, and Hulk made way moments after striking an impressive long distance free kick that was punched away by the Uruguayan keeper. While Hulk possesses power, Bernard's ability to interchange and pass instantly began the Samba drum beat that could not sustain any rhythm in the first 65 minutes. Then, Hernanes entered the match for Oscar, and Brazil's second phase was fully launched.
Hernanes sat deep in the midfield alongside Luiz Gustavo, which is slightly deeper than Hernanes fits into his Lazio team setup. With Brazil, Hernanes most recently played in this role when Paulinho missed the game against Italy. However, with Paulinho on the pitch, Hernanes' introduction allowed the Corinthians midfielder to stray into the attack with greater frequency.
The substitutions changed the game, Brazil began to dance in unison, and the crowd came back to life. With extra time looming, Neymar delivered a late corner. He looped in a teasing ball to the back post, and, of course, Paulinho was waiting to thunder the game winning header into the back of the goal.
Paulinho and Neymar were both involved in both semifinal goals, and consequently, they both secured their spots for the 2014 World Cup. If the Confederations Cup is a test for the World Cup, the newest pair of emerging global superstars finished top in the class.
Judging the tournament as a whole, the shadows of the widespread social strikes have not soured the atmosphere inside the stadiums or the players' ability to perform on the pitch. This tournament provided proof that Brazil has the right quality on the field, the right man on the sidelines, and the proper backing in the stands. Don't bet against Neymar, Paulinho, and Brazil in 2014.
Shahan Ahmed is a Yahoo! Contributor in Sports. He is Director of European Football and Chief Editor for AccuScore, and he is providing Yahoo! regular 2013 Confederations Cup coverage for the duration of the tournament. You can interact with Shahan on Twitter @ShahanLA
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