Police tear gas provided a literal start-to-finish cloud over a tournament which saw the 21-year-old strike its opening goal against Mexico two weeks ago then add another three strikes, including a decisive second in Brazil’s 3-0 demolition of world and European champions Spain in the final in Maracana.
The South American Footballer of the Year also played a crucial role in both Brazil’s other two goals, scored by Fred. Appropriately he collected the awards as Player of the Tournament – voted by the media – and as Man of the Match.
His four goals earned him third place in the marksman rankings behind only Spain’s Fernando Torres and Fred who both totalled five goals. Torres took the golden boot through having played fewer minutes in the tournament than the Fluminense centre-forward.
His award was one of two prizes for Spain, the other being the fair play prize.
They will have come as little consolation for La Roja after the way the world and European champions were ripped apart by Brazil in front of 72,000 delighted fans who almost raised the new roof over Maracana with their noise. By the end they were singing: “The champions are back.”
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, while delighted with both the manner and margin of victory, cautioned that a great deal of work remains if the hosts are to win the World Cup next year.
He acknowledged only that “we are on the right path” and appealed for the torcida to remain as united in support of the team over the next year as they had been over the past month.
Spain had their moments in the final. While they still trailed only 1-0 Pedro saw a goal-bound cleared off the line in remarkable fashion by the fast-recovering David Luiz. Scolari hailed that later as the most important moment in the entire tournament because, minutes later, Neymar struck Brazil’s second goal.
In the second half Fred struck again for Brazil and though Spain’s Sergio Ramos missed a penalty and Gerard Pique was sent off for tripping Neymar, Vicente Del Bosque’s team never remotely threatened to turn the game around.
Indeed, they were struggling at times to retain their dignity and ‘only’ a three-goal deficit.
Neymar goes under the surgeon’s knife on Friday but Brazil and his new club, Barcelona, need not worry, it is only to resolve a throat problem.
In any case, Neymar lets his feet do all his most important talking for him and will have earned enormous respect for his new club-mates; they will be relieved to have him playing alongside them rather than against them this coming Liga season.
As for Spain, coach Del Bosque said a first competitive defeat in three years would not make him reconsider the possession-based style which has brought so much success over the past five years.
But he did concede: “We are not happy with this defeat. We have to analyse it. We cannot simply go on to the next item . . . but we have great players and a very clear style and I see no necessity to change anything because of one well-deserved defeat
“Brazil deserved to win . . . They were hosts, they have a marvellous team and in the last five matches they have increased their performance level. They started the tournament playing well but were playing even better today.”
** Goalkeeper-captain Gigi Buffon made three fine penalty saves as Italy defeated Uruguay 3-2 in a shootout to clinch third place at the Confederations Cup after a 2-2 extra time draw in Salvador.