By Tom Webber
With 86 minutes played and the score level at 1-1, intense anxiety and apprehension engulfed the Mineirao as the game looked to be heading for extra time and penalties.
Having already played a key part in their opener, though, Paulinho then netted a late winner to book the Selecao a place in the Confederations Cup final, leaving no doubt that he is primed to make his mark in Europe.
The Brazilian midfield has been the subject of much debate throughout the tournament, with Luiz Felipe Scolari's choice pairing of Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho criticised for a lack of balance. But with his spirited performance against Uruguay, the Corinthians midfielder proved he fully warrants his place in the starting XI.
|'URUGUAY LEAVE WITH HEADS HELD HIGH'
|THE URUGUAYAN VIEW
"The fairytale of repeating the Maracanazo heroics of 63 years ago did not come to pass for Uruguay, but they will leave Belo Horizonte with their heads held high after a gutsy, attacking performance against the hosts and overwhelming favourites for Wednesday’s semi-final.
"Diego Lugano rolled back the years in defence with his best display in recent memory, while Brazil were never allowed to settle on the ball. Late goals in both halves ended the Celeste dream, but Oscar Tabarez will be delighted to see the awful form of 2012-13 come to a close. World Cup qualification will be a formality if the South Americans continue to play in the same fashion over the next five months."Daniel Edwards | Uruguay Expert
Although his defensive contribution did not always match his enthusiasm to push forward, it was that desire which proved vital in the closing stages. With the score level, Paulinho rose highest at the back post to head home the winner with four minutes of normal time remaining.
It was a goal that capped a magnificent 12 months for the Sao Paulo-born star. A key role in last year's Copa Libertadores triumph prompted interest from Europe, but Paulinho showed impressive loyalty to stay with the Timao in order to participate in the Club World Cup. His commitment was rewarded, as Corinthians beat Chelsea to the title with a 1-0 victory.
Speculation returned at the start of 2013, but once more the midfielder chose to stay in Brazil and help his club defend the Libertadores title he had lifted the season prior. That did not quite go to plan as the Musketeers were eliminated by Boca Juniors in the last 16, but triumphing in the Sao Paulo state championship offered more than a consolation. "This was missing for me. I needed this title," a teary Paulinho revealed after the final.
It is no surprise then, that with another European transfer window that numerous clubs across the Atlantic are competing for Paulinho's signature. Inter had again made their interest known, but Tottenham are now on the brink of securing a move to bring the 24-year-old to White Hart Lane.
Even though the Brasileiro has made great strides in terms of its quality, the lure of Europe remains large. The midfielder will be eager to gather even more experience ahead of next year's World Cup by finally making the move to one of the continent's top leagues.
The midfielder's rapid progression had shown signs of slowing in Brazil this year, but the ability to play such a crucial role in an important fixture makes him an invaluable asset to any side. Having guided Brazil into the final of the Confederations Cup, Spurs will surely be hoping he can help play a part in steering them towards similar successes.
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