RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — In winning the Confederations Cup, Brazil has regained the respect of fans at home and rivals around the world.
Entering the 2014 World Cup warm-up tournament after a lackluster run of results and jeered by their own fans, the Brazilians capped their revival in Sunday's final by overwhelming Spain 3-0.
Epitomizing Brazil's upturn has been Neymar, with Barcelona's new recruit turning in performances to match the hype surrounding him.
After scoring his fourth goal of the Confederations Cup in the Maracana Stadium on Sunday, Neymar won the Golden Ball award as the best player of the tournament.
"Brazil has shown to the world that this is the Brazilian national team and that we must be respected," Neymar said. "I think that today we had a great victory against the best team of the world with some of the best players in the world and we didn't hide ourselves.
"We went all out into the match. We were all running and playing very strongly — that shows how we are a strong team."
It didn't seem that way in April when they were booed by nearly 50,000 home fans after a 2-2 draw in a friendly against Chile.
As the five-time world champions stuttered through six games, with just one win, they plummeted to No. 22 in FIFA's rankings.
All it took to raise spirits was a 3-0 victory over France in a friendly earlier this month, the springboard to five consecutive wins at the Confederations Cup — including the final.
And now coach Luiz Felipe Scolari says his players have "represented Brazil with dignity."
"Apart from the quality of all our players the main aspect of the Confederations Cup was our fans," coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said. "We had the crowd supporting us. I believe that is very important this goes on, that we continue to have this unity, this spirit ... when we come together we become strong."
The fans who chanted "the champion is back" will now be expecting Scolari to repeat his 2002 World Cup triumph with Brazil in July next year in Rio de Janeiro.
"Winning the Confederations Cup opens up a path, it gives the possibility for the Brazilian supporters to believe that we are setting up a team, that this team will be competitive, and that this team can go for the title at the 2014 World Cup," Scolari said.
"For a team that was being formed and had many difficulties, I believe that this is an upgrade and there is an additional trust. This makes them play in a different way."
Scolari is happy to say publicly that he deserves credit, having replaced Mano Menezes, who was fired in November because the federation didn't like his methods.
"I first had to set up a team — I first had to cap players," Scolari said. "I had to first give these players self-esteem. We had to win a tournament to, in fact, feel great. We will have a whole year to play with a great team, knowing we still have to work a lot to get where the other teams, like Spain, Germany and Argentina are."
Downplaying expectations is the biggest challenge now.
"We still have a lot to learn," Scolari said.
"We will now be working with a little bit more trust to know we have the capacity (to win)," he added. "And then, who knows, we might to get a better level even than today's match."