BRASILIA, 16 JUNE: Neymar inspired Brazil to a 3-0 win over Japan on Saturday as the five-time world champions made a perfect start to their bid to clinch a third successive Confederations Cup title.
Brazil won the competition in 1997, as well as the 2005 and 2009 editions, although their ensuing World Cup performances left much to be desired.
With next year’s World Cup on home soil for the first time since 1950, this year’s vintage are bent on winning both tournaments, if only to send a message out to Pele, who said before Saturday’s game the current squad are not good enough. Neymar, who has just in the past month switched to Pele’s famous but historically onerous number 10 shirt, lived entirely up to the hype as he scored a brilliant opening goal after just three minutes to end a 10-match drought. He went on to lead the Japanese defence a merry dance before Paulinho and Jo made the points safe after the break. A 67,400 crowd, who roundly booed FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff beforehand following protests at the amount of money being spent on sports events, were entranced after Neymar pulled out a stunning opener.
The new Barcelona star hit a thunderbolt past Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima after Real Madrid defender Marcelo had crossed languidly from the left. Bustling centre forward Fred chested down for Neymar to drill in from 20 metres into the top corner and leave the Asian champions stunned.
Buoyed by that, Brazil moved through the gears and started to boss the show against a Japanese side they had thrashed 4-0 in their last meeting, an October friendly in Poland. Hulk, marauding in a three-pronged attack with Neymar and Fred, almost made it 2-0 four minutes before the break but his shot found only the side netting. Japan skipper Makoto Hasebe resorted to fouling Neymar to stop him wreaking further havoc in first-half injury-time, duly earning a booking from Portuguese referee Pedro Proenca. If Alberto Zaccheroni’s Japanese, who included in their ranks a raft of Europe-based talent including Manchester United star Shinji Kagawa and CSKA Moscow’s Keisuke Honda, hoped they had weathered the storm in limiting the damage to one goal at the break they were to be soon disabused.
There were three minutes on the second-half clock when attacking full-back Dani Alves slung over a perfectly weighted pass for Paulinho to hit a low drive that Kawashima could only help into the roof of his net. Japan desperately sought to respond, Shinji Okazaki of Stuttgart firing wide before Zaccheroni made his first change on 50 minutes, sending on Ryoichi Maeda in place of Hiroshi Kiyotake, moving Okazaki out to the right with Maeda in a more central role.
Maeda brought a smart stop from Julio Cesar in the Brazil goal on entering the fray. He then tried a left-footer which the Queens Park Rangers shot-stopper smothered well after Honda, who scored the penalty against Australia which saw Japan become the first country to seal World Cup qualification just prior to coming to Brazil, had a free-kick charged down.
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari then decided Neymar had done sufficient work and withdrew the starlet with 20 minutes remaining for Paris Saint Germain winger Lucas.
There was still time for substitute Jo of Atletico Mineiro to hit the third through the keeper’s legs after running onto Oscar’s superb through ball in the third minute of injury-time. Meanwhile, Tahiti will take on Nigeria in their Group B opener on Monday.