Victory for the Selacao in an emotional and highly-charged encounter at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte ensured that the hosts made it into the final of the 2013 Confederations Cup.
Paulinho’s header ensured that Luis Felipe Scolari’s men eventually saw off a resilient Uruguay to set up a clash with either Spain or Italy in the historic Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.
Fred had given Brazil the lead three minutes from the interval, prodding home Neymar’s cross. But Uruguay replied with just three minutes into the second period when Edinson Cavani capitalised on an error from Thiago Silva to strike a low shot beyond Julio Cesar in Brazil’s goal.
Diego Forlan should have given the South American champions a first-half lead after David Luiz pulled down Uruguay captain Diego Lugano, but fluffed the opportunity.
The build up to the match has been every bit as passionate and spiky as the game itself. Home goalkeeper Cesar had described the rivalry between the two South American nations as more intense than that of Brazil’s with Argentina, while Uruguay captain Lugano had accused Neymar of attempting to fool referees by diving.
Be that pre-match mind games as it may, the game was fractious and fraught. Neither side found their fluency, as Uruguay drained the game of pace and momentum, quietening the crowd and adding to the mood of tension around the Mineirao Stadium.
But it was an incident in the 14th minute, involving Luiz and Lugano that changed the mood of the proceedings. Uruguay won a corner and as the players jostled in the penalty area, Luiz grabbed a handful of Lugano’s shirt and the Uruguay captain went to ground for a penalty.
The Brazil players surrounded Chilean referee Enrique Osses and the stadium erupted in fury. Forlan was made to wait and wait to take the spot-kick and his effort was low and tame, allowing Cesar to dive to his left and turn the ball behind with a flick of his glove.
Uruguay continued to threaten, frustrating Brazil, snapping in tackles and denying them space, yet for the remainder of the half, Scolari’s men lacked cohesion, confidence and sustained threat- insipid not inventive.
Rodriguez headed just over while Forlan fizzed a curling left foot shot wide. It seemed it might take a mistake, some individualism or a piece of good fortune to break the deadlock and give Brazil hope-so it proved.
With half-time in sight, Paulinho’s lofted pass spun perfectly into the path of Neymar. He forced the ball back across goal, but it was deflected into the path of Fred, via a deflection off Lugano, allowing the local boy to force the ball into the net with his shin.
With the second-half just minutes underway; Brazil were still prone to lapses in concentration. Captain Silva ended a calamitous series of errors by passing the ball to Cavani in the penalty area before the Napoli striker fired a low shot beyond Cesar to level the game and stun the home crowd into silence for a second time.
The introduction of home-town hero Bernard lifted the home crowd once again. His quick feet took him past two Uruguay defenders within minutes of his arrival only for Fred to fire high and wide when the ball finally came his way.
Uruguay drooped deeper and deeper as Brazil went to the flanks in search of an opening. Cavani, though, still threatened. One shot deflected narrowly wide, but with the game running into extra-time it was the host who struck the decisive blow. Neymar floated a corner over from the left and Paulinho rose highest to head in at the far post and spark scenes of jubilation.
“If you keep plugging away something good will happen and that happened today,” Brazil coach Scolari said.
“Four wins in four games is important. We are on the right track.”
Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez:
“More than having an effect on my team, the penalty miss had a huge effect on the opponent.
“They had been second best until then and from that moment they grew.”