The unforgiving nature of the knockout stage nearly sent Brazil crashing out at the first hurdle. The host nation did not meet its expected standard. Chile embraced the opportunity to knockout the favorites and nearly accomplished the feat.
Brazil – with the aid of the crossbar and a couple of penalty kick stops by Júlio César after the match finished 1-1 after 120 minutes – will proceed to play another game, but it must heed the lesson learned. This edition of Five Points starts with the drama in Belo Horizonte.
Brazil escapes from round of 16, but its problems persist
The knockout stage is a test in surviving and advancing, but the fine margin for error in this Brazil side right now is enough to give a fright to the entire country. Brazil isn’t arranged to blow teams out of the water. It is, however, expected to sort out matters before needing penalty kicks to oust a determined Chile side.
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari grasps the issues well enough by this point, but he doesn’t really possess the personnel to solve them. He names Fred – poor again today in a largely forgetful tournament to date – as his number nine because there are no other viable choices. He relies heavily on Neymar because his teammates never raise their levels in concert to aid him. He trots out his settled team because the alternatives aren’t appreciably better.
Brazil – to its credit – can meander its way through this sort of game. It is generally organized and largely coherent. It can strike on set pieces – the only goal, of course, came from the noticeable advantage over the Chileans in that department – to supplement Neymar’s ingenuity. It can coax contributions out of other players – Hulk posed a threat for much of this game, for example – from game to game. It can defend well enough when it does not give away the ball cheaply.
All of those factors made Brazil a favorite to advance deep into this tournament at its outset. The home side – still without a competitive defeat in its own country for nearly 40 years – still ranks in that group with its ability to grind through games, but Chile laid the frailty of those efforts well and truly bare. If Neymar isn’t captivating, then this team is vulnerable. It could lead to a nervous couple of weeks as the Selecao navigates its way toward the final. On this evidence, it could prove far, far more difficult than expected.
Colombia enthralls again as Pekerman places his creators in a position to thrive
Brazil faces an almighty task to constrain Colombia in their quarterfinal tie on Friday in Fortaleza. Colombia once again produced a mobile and stirring performance to collected a deserved 2-0 victory over Uruguay and state their credentials for a deeper run in the tournament.
Colombia coach José Pekerman opted to tinker with his lineup – Jackson Martinez started alongside Teo Gutierrez up front to push James Rodriguez into a nominal wide role – and reaped the benefits. Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado operated with freedom in the middle third away from the tenacious Arévalo Rios and presented threat after threat by combining quickly in good areas.
Most of Colombia’s threat hinges on its movement. Gutierrez offers minimal goal threat, but he works in good areas and always provides an option to combine. Martinez – perhaps likely to miss out in the quarters against Brazil for an extra midfielder – can dart in behind or drop off behind. Cuadrado and Rodriguez float freely into areas where opposing defenses struggle to pick them up adequately. Pablo Armero and Juan Zuñiga charge forward from their fullback positions to stretch the field horizontally and supply genuine width.
The benefits of all of those intricately moving pieces manifest through individual brilliance (Rodriguez’s stunning opener) and collective incisiveness (the wonderful team goal for the killer second, perhaps the best move of the tournament to date from start to finish). Colombia plays at a high tempo and pulls teams apart by executing accordingly. This group will present a stern examination for a Brazil side yet to hit top gear.
Chile bows out with credit and heartache after successful tournament
The prospect of playing Brazil did not tame Chile. Jorge Sampaoli and his players accepted the challenge wholeheartedly. They thrived on the big stage and nearly knocked out the hosts. A matter of inches either way – most notably on Mauricio Pinilla’s late drive off the crossbar – could have sent La Roja through.
It would have offered a cathartic reward for a job well done in this tournament. Chile now boasts a cohesive identity and possesses the players to implement it. This side presses high and pushes the tempo of the match at every turn. They slice apart the opposition when given the opportunity and summon the necessary defiance when required to compensate for a startling dearth of suitable defensive personnel.
All of those factors may have propelled Chile past another opponent with a more favorable draw or ushered this group past the Selecao on another day. Instead, this side can return home with a largely impressive submission over four matches and a platform to build upon in the coming years.
Uruguay exits tamely after age and controversy catch up to them
The decision to close ranks and vilify the English media in the wake of Luis Suarez’s suspension spoke volumes at the options available ahead of the round of 16 clash against Colombia. Uruguay needed to rely on its anger, its commitment and its fervor with an aging squad and a paucity of creative elements. It didn’t work. This group simply lacked the capacity to cope with a vibrant Colombia side with the available elements.
It showed on the day. Oscar Tabarez tried his best to rally the troops, but they could not muster the fight. Diego Forlan – so influential in the run four years ago – offered little as Suarez’s direct replacement. His teammates hardly compensated by lifting their levels, though they were generally constructed to destroy rather than captivate. The defense cracked as it attempted to cope with all of the Colombian movement.
There were no answers for Tabarez or his team to produce. They knew their chances were reduced significantly by Suarez’s indiscipline. They tried to compensate, but they lacked the capacity to do so. It is not the way the old guard expected to exit the scene, but they must grapple with this ending nevertheless.
Mexico, Netherlands showcase the utility of the three-man backline
The meeting between Mexico and the Netherlands (12 p.m. ET) matches two sides with two fairly similar shapes. Both teams expect to create advantages against the opposition through structure alone, but they must tweak their approaches a bit here to ensure maximum threat. Netherlands enters this affair as the slight favorite with its rampant counter and the potential concerns about Carlos Salcido – named as the replacement for the suspended José Juan Vázquez – in central midfield for El Tri. If the Dutch can play quickly through the middle third and isolate Arjen Robben on Rafa Marquez or Maza Rodriguez, then the Netherlands can expose a Mexican defense that has performed well to date.
Expect a vastly different dynamic in the second match between Costa Rica and Greece (4 p.m. ET). Both teams flourished when given the opportunity to sit deep, soak up pressure and wait for the right time to counter. Costa Rica is probably better suited to take more initiative in this game with its mobility through midfield and its wingbacks pushing higher. Greece must stay compact from back to front to avoid allowing Joel Campbell room to dash behind the line and venture forward carefully to strengthen its chances of booking a place in the quarters.