RIO DE JANEIRO -- Brazilian boss Luiz Felipe Scolari said he wanted to send a message. We got it, loud and clear: Brazil are back.
It didn't take the emphatic and historic 3-0 win over Spain to realize things were finally coming together for the Selecao, but for the crowd at the Maracana and the tens of millions more green-and-gold devotees, it was a nice exclamation mark.
The antidote to La Roja was neither sophisticated nor unexpected. But sometimes it's not about coming up with a brilliant plan; it's about executing a simple plan well. And ensuring the breaks go your way.
Brazil were fresher. They had an extra day to prepare and were not coming off the brutal 120 minutes-plus penalty that Spain had to deal with Thursday against Italy in Salvador. So Scolari amped up the tempo, instilling a frenetic pace -- by Brazil standards -- in the first 20 minutes that seemed to stun Spain. The Selecao went as physical as referee Bjorn Kuipers would allow, and they did it intelligently.
Sure, Fred's early goal made things a heck of a lot easier. It brought the crowd into the match straight away, it gave them a spring in their step. But even without that score after just two minutes, you could tell Spain were rattled.
Of course, nobody can play at that pace for the entire game. Not without taking huge risks on the counterattack. And this is where Brazil got the rub of the green. Four minutes from halftime David Luiz's dramatic goal-line clearance avoided the equalizer. And shortly thereafter, Neymar, gambling on being offside, made it 2-0.
Needless to say, the sequence changed the game. The hill Spain needed to climb became a whole mountain range. And Scolari was able to reset Brazil's tempo, bringing it back in line with a pace at which they felt comfortable.
The death of Tiki-taka?
You'll read plenty now about the demise of Spain and the death of Tiki-taka. Take it with a grain of salt.
Brazil played well and had few breaks go against them. On the day, they were the better team. And Vicente Del Bosque made some choices that were questionable at best.
You may recall that in my preview I made the point that too many options can be a bad thing. For Del Bosque, evidently, they were. This was not a game for Juan Mata's skill set -- not in the way it panned out in the early going anyway. (Maybe one day we'll figure out what was really up with Cesc Fabregas, who remained on the bench.) Picking on Fernando Torres is a national sport in some places. The best you can say is that, against Brazil, apart from one gorgeous reverse pass that led to David Luiz's goal-line clearance, he contributed very little.
Would Roberto Soldado or David Villa have done better? It's the benefit of hindsight. And the price you pay for having too many options.
But it's worth remembering that, despite the conditions, despite the hostile crowd, despite Del Bosque's backfiring choices, despite Brazil's performance, Spain still missed a penalty and were denied by a superhuman Luiz. These guys might not win back-to-back World Cups when they return here next summer, but they'll come close.
Neymar living up to the hype
This was supposed to be Neymar's coming out party against top European opposition and he lived up to the hype. Any Eurosnobs harboring doubts ahead of his huge move to Barcelona may want to think again.
Critics will point out aspects of his game that need to change. He goes down too easily even when it's unnecessary. He could muscle up a bit. But watching him in person, in full flight, you can see just why some put him in the same conversation as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Compared to the other two, Neymar lacks their finishing (for now... he's genuinely two-footed and it's an area where he can improve) and their presence (yes, Messi might be small, but he has plenty of presence). But in terms of vision and unselfishness, he might be ahead of them. The ease with which he sees and executes passes to teammates with an array of deft, creative touches -- often delivered in full flight -- is, frankly, terrifying.