RIO DE JANEIRO – The crowd at Maracana stadium was noisy, hoping for and perhaps anticipating a triumph by Brazil.
Brazil rewarded the fans with a comprehensive victory over the best national team of the 21st century, an ego-boosting 3-0 smothering of world champion Spain in the Confederations Cup final on Sunday.
But Brazil is focusing on the really big prize: the World Cup it hosts next year.
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“We know that the tournament that we will be playing next year will be a lot more difficult,” Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari said. “Now we have more confidence. That’s what we needed.”
In the stadium that will host the 2014 World Cup final next July 14, Fred put Brazil ahead in the second minute, Neymar increased the lead in the 44th with his fourth goal of the tournament and Fred added his fifth goal in the 47th minute.
While there was a crowd of 73,000 at the renovated stadium, outside the walls protesters clashed with riot police on the final night of the two-week prep tournament for the World Cup.
“Brazil has shown to the world that this is the Brazilian national team and that we must be respected,” said Neymar, 21, who won the Golden Ball as the event’s top player. “I think that today we had a great victory against the best team of the world, with some of the best players in the world.”
In a matchup of new and old powers, the five-time world champion defeated the reigning world and European champion and ended Spain’s 29-match, three-year unbeaten streak (24-0-5) in competitive matches.
Spain manager Vicente del Bosque said. “We are not content with the loss. But when a team is superior, you have to accept it. It was a deserved defeat.”
It was top-ranked Spain’s first setback in any kind of match since a 1-0 exhibition loss to host England in November 2011.
Spain lost a competitive match by three goals for the first time since a 3-0 defeat at Wales in a World Cup qualifier in April 1985.
Brazil won its third straight Confederations Cup and is unbeaten in 57 consecutive home competitive matches since 1975. But no reigning Confed Cup winner has gone on to capture the next year’s World Cup.
Spain’s Sergio Ramos sent a penalty kick wide in the 55th minute and defender Gerard Pique was ejected with a straight red card for fouling Neymar in the 68th.
“The first minutes and the last minutes of the halves are critical,” Spanish defender Cesar Azpilicueta said. “And they scored their three goals at the beginning and ends of the halves, which is the worst time. Those are the most demoralizing moments.”
Italy got third place with a 3-2 advantage over Uruguay in converting penalty kicks after a 2-2 draw.
• Fabian Espindola snapped a scoreless tie in the 60th minute and Jonny Steele scored with two minutes left in regulation, giving the New York Red Bulls a 2-0 Major League Soccer victory over visiting Houston.
• Home teams prevailed in National Women’s Soccer League matches, as FC Kansas City beat Portland 2-0 and Boston defeated league-leading Sky Blue FC 3-2.