Brazilian forward Neymar drives the ball during Brazil's 2-1 victory… (Christophe Simon / Getty…)
Paulinho's header off a Neymar corner kick in the 86th minute lifted Brazil to a 2-1 victory over Uruguay and into this weekend's final of the Confederations Cup. The host nation will meet the winner of Thursday's semifinal between Spain and Italy.
The eight-team tournament is considered something of a dress rehearsal for the World Cup, which will take place in Brazil next summer. And Brazil is bidding to win it for the third consecutive time and for the fourth time in seven tournaments.
Wednesday's match was nearly postponed after police in Belo Horizonte told authorities they feared they would not be able to guarantee the safety of fans who attended. A huge demonstration just before kickoff drew a crowd police estimated at more than 50,000. The protesters were voicing their anger at the high cost of hosting the Confederations Cup and next year’s World Cup finals at the expense of more pressing social needs.
About 6,000 police were called in and 10 helicopters were deployed overhead in attempt to stop the marchers from reaching the stadium. About 1,500 army troops were deployed at subway stations, the airport and the streets that surround the stadium.
At one point police reportedly fired tear gas at stone-throwing marchers to stop them from reaching the stadium.
Several Brazilian players, including Fred, who scored his team's first goal Wednesday, and Neymar, the team's superstar forward, have publicly backed the demonstrators while calling for the protest to remain nonviolent.
Last week more than 70,000 protesters filled the streets ahead of Japan’s meeting with Mexico.
Inside the stadium Fred gave Brazil a 1-0 lead four minutes before halftime but the goal was really the result of some great work by Luiz Gustavo, who sent the ball ahead to Neymar before Fred put it in the back of the net.
Uruguay got the equalizer three minutes into the second half when Edinson Cavani took advantage of some sloppy Brazilian defensive play to score. It was just the third goal Brazil has conceded in the tournament, the other two coming against Italy in Brazil. And it would have been worse had Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar not stopped Diego Forlan's penalty shot in the 17th minute.
With the clock ticking toward overtime, Paulinho ended it, charging to the far post to head Neymar's perfectly placed corner kick into the high right-hand corner of the net. It was a fitting result given that Brazil outshot its gritty South American rival more than 2 to 1 and dominated time of possession.
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