There is always a concern when the World Cup reaches the must-win, knockout stage that the matches become tighter and lose some of their effervescence.
Of course, this is Brazil 2014, and it continues to inject life into international football on a daily basis.
Some thoughts on Day 16…
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• The record books will tell us that Chile bowed out in the round of 16. Those of us who watched Chile won’t focus on that, but will remember how La Roja played with a swagger and a self-belief that in many ways epitomized this year’s tournament. Against Brazil, Jorge Sampaoli’s side was the better team for large stretches of the match, and if not for an uncompromising crossbar late on, they would be preparing for a quarterfinal. Thanks Chile; you were a breath of fresh air and set a good example for all other nations at this cmpetition. See you at Copa America next year.
• English referee Howard Webb did a great job taking charge of the Brazil-Chile match. The early non-call on Hulk’s penalty plea was as gutsy a decision as we’ll see at this World Cup. And although the hand-ball call on Hulk later on was debatable, Webb was outstanding on the day. Mind you, had Brazil perished, the Englishman would have needed an armed convoy to get out of the stadium alive.
• Speaking of Hulk, this was his best performance by a mile. Success going forward may depend on the big man finding his game.
• We have spoken at length about the pressure Brazil is under at this World Cup, but if any image demonstrated this, surely it was Neymar’s post-match tears. Neymar looked so confident, so unbreakable and when he stepped up to take his crucial spot kick, I had no doubt he’d score. Those tears, though, revealed the human that lurks beneath the swagger. Some will criticize it, but I say bravo for blowing off steam in such a raw display of emotion.
• James Rodriguez. No words.
• Juan Cuadrado is perhaps the most underrated player at this year’s World Cup, and maybe the most exciting. Fiorentina, you are very fortunate.
• Uruguay will blame this loss on the English media as if they were actually on the field. With the exception of the final 25 minutes or so when Colombia began to sit back, Uruguay looked as if they were quite content bowing out under the weight of that massive chip on their collective shoulders. It’s quite sad, as is manager Oscar Tabarez who tarnished a gleaming reputation on Friday when ranting about the supposed conspiracy against Luis Suarez.
• On form alone, Colombia will enter its quarterfinal against Brazil as the firm favourite. Of course there is so much more to it than that, but for Brazil to win they simply need to step out of second gear. If they don’t they’ll get burned. This might be an example of vintage Scolari management, but if they lose then you have to say that the host nation has been disappointing at this World Cup—with the notable exception of Neymar.