Neymar scores one and makes the other as hosts Brazil beat Mexico 2-0 in Group A
Italy defeat Japan in an epic, to meet hosts in competition for top group spot
Build-up to Brazil match in Fortaleza overshadowed by widespread protests outside stadium perimeter
For those following the Confederations Cup game on television around the world, Brazil’s 2-0 victory over Mexico in the north-eastern city of Fortaleza seemed a routine affair.
Brazil’s latest number 10, Neymar, dazzled while scoring one goal and setting up the second in a stadium bedecked with yellow-shirted fans as the hosts continued their serene progress in Group A.
The hosts will match up against Italy for top spot in the group table after the Azzurri beat Japan 4-3, eliminating the Blue Samurai from semifinal contention. The loser of the Brazil and Italy game will likely draw Spain in the semifinals.
At the Brazil-Mexico game, not all the action was on the pitch. A closer look around the stadium revealed numerous placards railing against corruption, social injustice, high taxes and even some requesting that FIFA bring hospitals to Brazil rather than stadiums.
And outside the Castelao stadium, newly built at a cost of $240 million, it was anything but normal as protesters blocked roads in such numbers they forced a number of vehicles, including some containing FIFA passengers, to take a different route to the arena.
Brazil has been rocked by the biggest demonstrations seen in over two decades this week as protests initially sparked by a hike in bus fares in Sao Paulo have spiraled into nationwide marches.
Protesters have decried the $15 billion being invested in the Confederations Cup, the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games while outlining the need for improvements in hospitals, transportation, education and other key social programs.
With Brazil gripped by what is being called the “Tropical Spring”, it seemed apt that the golden hope for the national team - one who supposedly can bring about a brighter future himself - set the hosts on their way.
“Saddened by all that is occurring in Brazil,” Neymar, 21, wrote in a statement issued before kickoff.
“I always had faith that it would not be necessary to come to the point of having to take to the streets to demand better conditions for transport, health, education and security. All this is the OBLIGATION of the government.”
Just hours later, the politically disillusioned Neymar brought great joy to his 200 million compatriots as he opened the scoring against the Mexicans with a fine volley – firing home from just inside the box with his left foot, just days after a beauty against Japan with his right.
The ball fell to the new Barcelona signing after a cross from right back Dani Alves, who had given his backing to the widespread protests in the run up to the game.
“Order and Progress without violence for a better Brazil, a peaceful Brazil, an educated, healthy, honest and happy Brazil,” he wrote on his Instagram account.
While the protestors face an indeterminate wait to see what effect their actions will have, Brazil’s football fans can rest a little easier after the five-time world champions reached the verge of the Confederations Cup semifinals.
Victory was sealed when Neymar, who had taken his tally to 13 goals in 15 internationals, shimmied his way between two defenders in stoppage time to set up substitute Jo for the second goal.
Despite the protests, the players arrived at the stadium in relaxed mood – Neymar tapping away at a tambourine while squad member Dante was among several banging a drum.
Brazil’s victory went some way to redressing their poor run against Mexico, who boast a better recent record against their opponents than any other side in the world - with six wins from 11 meetings.
But Mexico, who won the 1999 Confederations Cup when beating the Brazilians 4-3 on home soil and took Olympic gold when defeating the South Americans at London 2012, could not find a way past a defense that looked ragged at times.
Having beaten Japan 3-0 in their opener on Saturday, Brazil have maximum from two games – with their final Group A clash coming against Italy on Saturday in Salvador.