By Kevin McCauley
Brazil did exactly what was expected of them on Saturday, winning their first competitive match in nearly two years in their Confederations Cup opener against Japan. Neymar scored early for the Selecao and Japan, who had a pair of World Cup qualifiers coming into the match, didn’t appear to have the energy to mount a serious comeback. Brazil went on to record a comfortable 3-0 win.
Neymar started the game as an attacking midfielder, playing underneath center forward Fred. The two combined for a brilliant opener, with Fred chesting down the ball for Neymar on the edge of the penalty area. The soon-to-be Barcelona player stepped into a half-volley and drilled a perfect shot into the back of the net.
Keisuke Honda nearly answered with a great free kick on target three minutes later, but Julio Cesar saved and Japan didn’t generate too many other chances in the first half. Brazil didn’t come up with anything nearly as good as Neymar’s goal in the rest of the half, but they controlled the game easily. Hulk, in particular, looked lively and forced a couple of saves from Eiji Kawashima.
It only took three minutes of play in the second half for Brazil to double their lead. Paulinho scored it with a great run forward from deep and a low strike on a cross by Dani Alves. Kawashima got a hand on the ball and probably should have made a save, but couldn’t get a strong enough touch on it to keep it out of the back of the net.
Shinji Okazaki started in place of Ryoichi Maeda up top and looked dangerous, but struggled to do anything with the chances that his teammates set up for him. The attacking band of Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Hiroshi Kiyotake was effective, but Okazaki’s touch was poor and he squandered every opportunity they set up for him. In the 51st minute, Maeda entered the game for Kiyotake, moving Okazaki out to the right wing where he looked more comfortable. Unfortunately for Japan, the move never resulted in a goal.
Neymar entered the game with a slight concern about a knee injury and was given a curtain call in the 74th minute with the match well in hand, as Lucas Moura entered to massive applause. Neymar did not appear to have aggravated his injury in any way and should be fit to start Brazil’s next match.
For the most part, Brazil looked content to pass their way to a 2-0 victory, but they struck on the counter late to add a third goal. Jo, who entered in the 81st minute, netted his team’s final goal after running onto an absolutely brilliant through ball from Oscar.
If anyone had concerns about Brazil looking rusty in this competition after going so long without playing a competitive match, those concerns were probably erased on Saturday. Japan are a quality team who didn’t make any serious mistakes on Saturday, and a 3-0 loss is a bit harsh on them. Brazil were just that good.
Picture by Dean Mouhtaropoulos