KEIR RADNEDGE in BELO HORIZONTE – 2nd rd: Brazil 1, Chile 1 (Brazil 3-2 on penalties after extra time)
—- Brazil move on and that is all that matters. No matter that their game subsided into confusion long before the end of the two hours, no matter that Chile hit bar at the end of extra time, no matter that the five-times World Cup-winners needed penalties to clamber forward.
Brazil, hosts of the most dramatically exciting World Cup in years, can be proud rather of heart than inspiration. But football is about more than skill and strategy, technical proficiency and devoted support, it is also about qualities of character and human spirit.
Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men proved they possess these attributes in abundance though they may pray it is their skill and talent which can reassert themselves from the quarter-final against Colombia on Friday in Fortaleza and, hopefully, onwards.
The greatest drama was reserved for the last minutes. Two minutes from the end of extra time Chilean substitute Mauricio Pinilla thundered a shot against the Brazilian crossbar. Hence the score remained locked at 1-1 and threw the outcome to the winds of the penalty spot.
Goalkeeper Julio Cesar saved initial Chilean kicks from Pinilla and Alexis Sanchez but failures by Willian and Hulk left it all down to the last exchange of spotkicks: Neymar, Brazil’s magic-touch superstar, lived up to the responsibility of the hosts’ last kick.
Brazil deserved to go through. They were the one team who sought to construct and create. The trouble was, they did not do it very well. Chile, working like a horde of scarlet-shirted demons, stifled and harassed and chased themselves to a near-standstill. But it was not quite enough even against a Brazilian team who proved their own worst enemies.
A finer stage would have been difficult to imagine: Belo Horizonte’s vast Mineirao bowl in the early-afternoon sunshine which enhanced the colour clash of Brazilian yellow with pockets of Chilean scarlet.
Nervous also, perhaps, because Brazil had not been at their best. The brilliance and the four Group A goals of Neymar had brought them to this point. No-one had ever doubted that they would emerge from the first round. But the knockout stage is different. Here there is no safety net. It’s win or lose. Do or die. Success or failure. No draws. No half-measures. No compromise with fate.
Scolari retained Fernandinho in midfield in place of Paulinho who had served Brazil so well in last year’s Confederations Cup victory but had looked something of a lost soul here and now. Chile were at full strength with the fragile Arturo Vidal restored to the creative heart of midfield after being rested from the conclusive group outing against Holland.
The Chilean fans produced a neat trick during the preliminaries by singing on with their own anthem after the music had stopped, copying the manner of the Brazilian supporters. Brazil’s players and fans responded in like fashion.
Once the fans had crossed swords so did the players. Fernandinho went through Charles Aranguiz and the Chileans reacted with a sandwich on Neymar which forced him to the touchline for brief treatment.
First shot of match was a 25m effort from Brazil leftback Marcelo which skidded safely wide of keeper Claudio Bravo’s right-hand post. Brazil had more pace out of defence than Chile, particularly with Hulk down the left. Early pressure produced a vain penalty appeal by Hulk, and free kicks from left and right by Neymar and Hulk which Bravo stretched to deny.
But the corner proved fatal. Neymar’s kick was skipped on off the head of skipper Thiago Silva and defender Gonzalo Jara jabbed the ball back into his own net, though David Luiz, immediately behind him, claimed the goal.
If Brazil benefited from Chilean help, they returned the favour in the 32nd minute. Hulk, deep in his own half, produced a sloppy touch of the ball which left the waiting Marcelo stranded. Alexis Sanchez took sharp advantage to seize possession, cut into the penalty box and rifle a low shot beneath Julio Cesar’s right arm and inside the keeper’s right-hand post.
Oddly, it was Chile who began the second half with more self-belief. Brazil, having switched Hulk to the right and Oscar to the left, looked uncertain about what they were supposed to be doing.
Not that this prevented them apparently taking the lead 10 minutes into the second half. An angled ball from the left was controlled high by Hulk who then shot into goal off his left knee. Brazilian celebrations were cut short when referee Howard Webb ruled, contentiously, that Hulk had controlled the ball with his arm.
Scolari replaced the off-the-pace Fred with Jo, allowing Hulk to switch back to the left, briefly finding more space into which to run.
In the meantime Chile continued to look snappier and sharper. They could have taken the lead just after the hour when Mauricio Isla pulled a short cross back from the byline, the outstanding Arturo Vidal hit the ball first-time and Julio Cesar made a magnfiicent reflex save for a corner.
As Brazil’s fans grew ever more restive so more substitutes started to arrive. Brazil brought on Ramires for the limping Fernandinho and might have taken the lead when Hulk crossed from the left, only for Jo to arrive a split-second too late.
Time to kill
Pattern and shape had left the match entirely. Brazil had largely lost their creative, constructive way and Chile continued scrapping. That left the match poised as it ran on into extra time.
With Chile largely out on their feet Jorge Sampaoli’s men used evert available artifice to break up the game and waste time. That had the effect of provoking the Brazilian fans into raising their own supporting game.
On the few occasions when the Chileans did progress into the Brazilian half they demonstrated their lack of energy or craft by conniving for one or other of their midfielder to thump an excuse for a shot into the crowd.
Yet it was Chile who came closest to a winner, two minutes from the end of extra when substitute striker Mauricio Pinilla broke free, exchanged passes with Sanchez and unleashed a thunderous shot which ricocheted back off the crossbar.
Webb blew his final whistle. And so the ultimate lottery of penalties.
David Luiz 1-0; Pinilla saved 1-0
Willian missed (wide of keeper’s right-hand post) 1-0; Sanchez saved 1-0
Marcelo 2-0; Aranguiz 2-1
Hulk missed 2-1; Diaz 2-2
Neymar 3-2; Jara hit post