By JUSTIN FERGUSON
In the midst of national protests and growing pressure from their fanbase, the Brazilian national team opened their prelude to the 2014 World Cup in style.
On Saturday, Brazil defeated Japan 3-0 in a Confederations Cup opener between the only two teams already qualified for next year’s global competition.
Neymar, fresh off a $76 million move to La Liga giants FC Barcelona, got the Selecao off to a flying start with a wonderful three-minute strike. After receiving a perfect chested pass from strike partner Fred, the 21-year-old Santos product laced a unstoppable shot into the Japanese goal.
Brazil doubled its lead three minutes into the second half on a goal from Paulinho. Japan attempted to get back into the match via the counter attack, but Brazil was able to slow down the Japanese and seal the win with a stoppage-time goal from Jo.
Both teams return to action on Wednesday as Brazil takes on Mexico and Japan faces Italy in the second round of Group A action.
Here are some more stories to get your Sunday kicked off:
SPAIN AND ITALY REACH EURO U-21 FINAL
The nation that has claimed the last two Euro titles and the most recent World Cup certainly has a bright future in the days ahead.
The Spanish U-21 team cruised to a 3-0 victory over Norway on Saturday to punch its ticket to the European title match in Israel. The defending champions still have not allowed a goal in this competition after conceding only one in qualification.
Norway failed to register a single shot on goal as the Spanish team gave goalkeeper Orjan Haskjold Nyland a workout from the opening whistle. The Norwegian goalkeeper, who made 10 saves in the match, was beaten in first half stoppage time by Benfica man Rodrigo. The highly touted Isco put the match out of reach in the 87th minute with a wonder goal, and Real Madrid’s Alvaro Morata extended his scoring streak to four matches with a stoppage time strike.
The talented Spanish youngsters will play Italy, who fought off the Netherlands 1-0 in a tight semifinal clash. In the middle of a back and forth second half, Liverpool forward Fabio Borini slotted in the match-winner for the Italians.
The final will be played on Tuesday in Jersualem’s Teddy Stadium.
BALOTELLI EXPECTED TO PLAY AGAINST MEXICO
After fears that a leg injury would keep him out of his side’s Confederations Cup opener against Mexico on Sunday, Mario Balotelli is expected to be fit in time for the match in Brazil.
Italian manager Cesare Prandelli said on Saturday there was a “good possibility” that Balotelli would be out on the field for the Mexico match.
The AC Milan striker left training early on Friday with an apparent right leg muscle issue. Balotelli has had a previous injury with that muscle, so he was pulled out early for precautionary reasons.
Balotelli was sent off in Italy’s most recent match, a scoreless draw with the Czech Republic, for two quick yellow cards in the second half.
After Sierra Leone’s 1-0 loss to Cape Verde Islands, Tunisia is just a point away from being the first team to qualify for Africa’s final round of World Cup qualifying. (REPORT)
Jose Mourinho said he would have “turned down every job in the world”, including the job at Manchester United, in order to come back to Chelsea. (REPORT)
Real Madrid sporting director Zinedine Zidane has urged Tottenham’s Gareth Bale to speed up a potential move to the Bernabeu by asking his club to let him leave. (REPORT)
Liverpool is reportedly close to signing 24-year-old Belgian goalkeeper Simon Mignolet from Sunderland. (REPORT)
Former England international and Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate has emerged as the favorite to replace Stuart Pearce as the England U-21 manager after the squad’s miserable recent showing at the European Championship. (REPORT)
What do you make of these reports? Impressed with Brazil’s win over Japan? Think Spain is a lock to win the Euro U-21 title on Tuesday? See Balotelli having an impact in today’s match against Mexico?
Share your thoughts below.