Heartbreak for Chile; Brazil’s luck continues: The front page of a Brazilian newspaper stoked the fires on Saturday when it listed the flight times out of Belo Horizonte back to Chile. In the end, those flights will be full of Chileans, but La Roja have nothing to be ashamed about after their performance in pushing the hosts to the very brink of elimination. Brazil is through to the quarterfinals, having vanquished Chile for the fourth time in the Round of 16. The final result was cruel on Chile, though. They handled and contained the Brazilians for most of the game, reducing Hulk, Fred, Neymar and Oscar to bit players and limiting their influence. Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli preaches an attacking brand of soccer. On this day, though, it was his back line—anchored by Gary Medel—that held the team together, riding its luck at times, but also thwarting Brazil’s attackers for long stretches.
And what of Arturo Vidal? The influential Juventus midfielder is capable of scoring screamers from distance and charging through defences. On this day, his defensive skills came to the fore, as he made seven tackles and imposed his physical presence on the proceedings before being subbed out in the second half due to fatigue. It’s a cruel sport sometimes, and this was cruel on Chile. They deserved more. They were the better side on the day. It’s also a game of “what ifs?” What if Mauricio Pinilla’s long-range effort in the dying seconds of extra time didn’t hit the crossbar as a helpless Julio Cesar looked on? Six inches lower and Chile would’ve won. Cruel.
As for Brazil, it was another lacklustre performance from the hosts that was hardly convincing. How Brazil could use a legitimate striker or goal-poacher, instead of relying on the likes of Fred and Jo. What they wouldn’t give for a playmaker in the Kaka mould who is in the prime of his career; someone who can create and orchestrate things in the middle of the park by knitting passes together, and link the defence with the attack. Luck and a failure of their opponents to put them on the rack has seen Brazil get this far. Surely, they can’t go any further playing like this, can they?
Colombia continues to shine: In start contrast to Brazil, Colombia has has been full value for each of their four wins and their first-ever World Cup quarterfinal berth. What a pure joy it’s been to watch this Colombian side, who’ve won with flair, skill, hard work and guile. In James Rodriguez, Colombia has a dynamic player and a genuine game-changer, something they really haven’t had since the glory days of Carlos Valderrama. Mario Yepes, at 38, has turned back the clock and played some of his best soccer in years, anchoring a largely unheralded defence that has been breeched just twice in Brazil. And for all the headlines garnered by Rodriguez, let’s not overlook the wonderful Juan Cuadrado. The Fiorentina star has seen his reputation enhanced with a series of stellar performances in Brazil. He’s offered a deadly combination of on-field vision and sublime distribution—of which Rodriguez has been the main benefactor—married to a tireless work rate as he’s run defenders into the ground. Colombia’s success has been achieved without Radamel Falcao, which makes their run to the quarterfinal all the more amazing and inspirational. More than a few pundits wrote off their chances when Falcao, while playing for AS Monaco, picked up a season-ending injury back in January. Nobody doubts them now, and they head into their quarterfinal clash as the firm favourite over Brazil.
That this emphatic win came against Uruguay in the Maracana—the site of La Celeste’s greatest triumph—made it even sweeter. The Colombians did a massive favour for millions of neutrals supporters around the world by eliminating their South American counterparts. Uruguay fully deserved this humiliation, not only because of their dour and cynically defensive tactics—their boring brand of soccer stood out against the backdrop of so many other nations playing with genuine adventure in Brazil. But also for the way that manager Oscar Tabarez and his players shamelessly defended Luis Suarez. You can stand behind a player without condoning his actions. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Ask any parent. The love a mother and a father have for their kids doesn’t suddenly evaporate when they discipline their misbehaving child. Love the sinner, but not the sin. It’s a lesson that Tabarez and Diego Lugano need to learn after the shameful way they defended Suarez, and how they suggested—with miraculously straight faces—that somehow the Liverpool man was the true victim. Good riddance, Uruguay. You won’t be missed.
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Stat of the day
4 – James Rodriguez is the first player to score in the first four games of a World Cup since Ronaldo and Rivaldo in 2002. Impact.
James Rodriguez scored the goal of the tournament—without question—in the 28th minute. Uruguay’s clearance was headed forward by a Colombia teammate to Rodriguez who took the ball on the chest, pivoted and struck a sweet volley from outside the penalty area that hit the crossbar and crossed the goal-line. An absolute stunner!
Save of the day
Claudio Bravo’s best save didn’t come in the shootout—it came just before halftime. Dani Alves struck a thunderbolt of a shot from 30 yards out that dipped and would have snuck in, only to see the Chilean goalkeeper backpedal and tip it over the crossbar.
Best moment of the day
After picking up an injury, Gary Medel had to be stretchered off the field early in the second half of injury time. But as he was being carted off, the Chilean defender sat up and fiercely applauded his teammates, trying to encourage and egg them on.
He said it
“We played the toughest opponents in the tournament, Spain, Holland, Brazil, and we never played like a team that was weaker than anyone else.” – Claudio Bravo, Chile goalkeeper
1) James Rodriguez: A brace from the Colombian, who now has five goals and has scored in all four games. Forget about young player of the tournament. He’s been THE player of the tournament thus far. 2) Juan Cuadrado: Made a great play on Rodriguez’s second goal to earn his tournament-leading fourth assist. Caused plenty of problems for Uruguay’s defence with his passes and runs 3) Julio Cesar: The Toronto FC goalkeeper made a number of key saves, including two very big stops in the penalty shootout.