By Mark Doyle
In 1972, former Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai famously mused that it was “too early to say” if the French revolution of the 18th century had been a success. By that rationale, it would, therefore, be premature in the extreme to mull over whether the 2013 Confederations Cup will prove a seminal moment in bringing about radical socio-economic change in Brazil. What we can say, though, even at this early juncture, is that, on the field at least, the tournament has been an unequivocal success.
As was noted beforehand, this was a most unusual Confederations Cup in that every team involved wanted to win it. However, nobody could have foreseen the way in which this much-maligned competition would capture the imagination of neutrals the world over.
Neymar, the symbol of the new Brazil, was, of course, the catalyst and chief protagonist throughout. The tournament was less than three minutes old when the Selecao No.10 opened the scoring in the hosts’ Group A game against Japan with a stunning strike from distance. With his wonderfully quick feet (the piece of skill he produced to set up Jo's goal against Mexico was sensational), blistering pace and ferocious shooting power, he has restored belief and romance to Brazilian football in equal measure - a most welcome development for all lovers of 'The Beautiful Game'.
La Roja just could not live with Brazil's pace or indeed their passion, with the hosts looking like inevitable winners from the moment the music was once again strategically stopped halfway through their national anthem, prompting a fittingly rousing demonstration of the wonderful synergy between the players and their people that might drive Brazil to World Cup glory one year from now - and maybe also dramatically reform a nation.
The locals, to their eternal credit, also got excited about the matches involving the hopelessly overmatched Tahiti and although the OFC Nations Cup champions shipped six goals in their opening game, against Nigeria, Jonathan Tehau’s towering second-half header was undeniably one of the moments of a most entertaining tournament.
Of course, for sheer drama, nothing topped what happened in Recife on June 19. Italy can lay claim to have been involved in some of the most epic international matches of all time and they added another classic to their impressive portfolio by defeating Japan 4-3 in arguably the most enjoyable match of the past decade. The Blue Samurai were a joy to behold and, objectively speaking, it was heartbreaking to see them get nothing out of a game that they had dominated for long periods. Still, sympathy quickly gave way to gratitude for the role Japan had played in a fantastically crazy encounter.
Indeed, it was hard not to feel like everyone got something out of this pulsating fortnight of football, and none more so than the neutrals, who cannot help but be excited by the prospect of what might unfold in 12 months’ time when the rest of the game’s international elite arrive in Brazil for the World Cup.
By that time, hopefully the host country will be well on its way to eradicating the inequality and social unrest that have been so prevalent over the past two weeks, thus allowing everyone to guiltlessly focus on the football, which, if it is as exciting as it has been this summer, would generate a true carnival atmosphere that everybody involved could enjoy.