World Cup: Brazil defeats Chile on penalties
RIO DE JANEIRO — And so the carnival carries on.
Brazil, the team which manages to thrill and frustrate almost simultaneously, clinched its place in the quarterfinal of the World Cup following a tension-fueled encounter with Chile.
A 3-2 victory on penalties following a 1-1 draw in Belo Horizonte means Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side’s quest to win the World Cup on home soil remains alive.
While Brazil will take the plaudits, Chile should be commended for a performance which at times defied the ability of the human body to run and hustle as its players did.
Having already scored an own-goal to gift Brazil a 19th minute lead, Gonzalo Jara was to be the fall guy at the death.
With Brazil leading the shootout 3-2, Jara needed to score to keep his country in the tournament.
As he stood, eyes firmly on the goal, two nations held their breath — but only one broke out into ecstasy as the ball smashed against the post and rolled away to safety.
As those in red flopped to the ground, their bodies bruised and beaten, tears running down their faces, their opponents danced their way around the field, perhaps more out of relief than happiness.
Brazil, still haunted by its failure 64 years ago when it was beaten by Uruguay in the 1950 final, cannot afford anything but triumph.
It will now move on to face either Colombia or Uruguay in Fortaleza on Friday — but there will still be some concerns over Brazil’s performance.
This was not the showing of a side which appeared ready to become World champion.
Poor in possession, unnerving in defense, most of those at the Estadio Mineirao were put through a painstaking afternoon as its side seldom showed what has become expected of a Brazilian side.
And yet, before kickoff, every single historic fact pointed towards a Brazil victory.
Brazil, which had not lost a competitive home game since 1975, has dominated encounters between the two sides in recent years.
On the 26 occasions Chile had ventured onto Brazilian turf to face the host nation, it had lost 20 and drawn six — not a record to inspire confidence ahead of a last-16 clash.
Add to that Brazil’s victory over Chile in South Africa four years ago and it’s easy to understand why Scolari’s men headed into the contest as the favorite.
But this Chile side, coached by the irrepressible Jorge Sampaoli, appears to have little interest in history.
Its victory over world champion Spain during the group stage gave a glimpse of the talent within the squad and led by the prolific Alexis Sanchez, it soon gave notice that it was not about to allow Brazil to simply swat it aside.
Even when it fell behind, Jara, inadvertently directing Thiago Silva’s header into his own net under pressure from David Luiz, Chile refused to buckle.
Playing with an energy and intensity which belied the energy sapping conditions, the visiting side soon crafted an equalizer, which perhaps owed more to Brazil’s poor defending than any Chilean magic.
A careless pass allowed Chile to pick up possession and Sanchez weaved his way into the penalty area before carefully placing the ball beyond the outstretched arm of Julio Cesar.
The Barcelona forward, who has scored 10 goals in his past 14 international games, has been his side’s talisman throughout the tournament — and his pace, power and trickery continued to cause Brazil problems.
But where Sanchez managed to shine, Neymar, the man who had lit up this World Cup, failed to find his way into the contest.
The 22-year-old, who had scored four goals in his opening three games, received a kick in the first half which appeared to leave him struggling.
But Brazil’s golden boy, even when not fully fit, still managed to cause problems and his header from an Oscar cross flew narrowly wide as the host nation threatened.
Minutes later, Neymar was at it again — this time leaving the Chilean defense for dead only for the much maligned Fred to lash the ball harmlessly over the crossbar.
After a fierce and frantic first half, both teams emerged in more cautious manner following the interval.
Chile, so disciplined in defense and careful in possession, appeared to be the calmer of the two as nerves began to creep into Brazil’s game.
And yet, for all of Brazil’s inability to keep the ball, it still looked the more threatening.
As those draped in yellow packed inside the Estadio Mineirao began to raise their voices, its players began to respond.
But instead of the goal it so badly craved, Brazil could only find frustration.
Hulk, the man with a comic book hero’s name but with the first touch of a dastardly villain, thought he had found a way through.
The forward took Marcelo’s long ball on his chest but the ball appeared to roll down his arm before he fired the ball past Claudio Bravo.
As the Brazilians around the world rejoiced, the whistle of English referee Howard Webb could scarcely be heard.
First, there was disbelief. Then there was frustration. Then anger.
Webb’s call looked to have taken the wind out of Brazil’s sails — and it could have been heading out of the tournament but for a wonderful save by Cesar.
Mauricio Isla made his way down the right and his cross picked out the tireless Charles Aranguiz, whose effort was brilliantly parried by the Brazilian goalkeeper.
With both sets of players appearing to settle for extra-time, chances were at a premium, although Bravo denied both Neymar and Hulk as the clock ticked down.
Extra time became a war of attrition with both sides guilty of giving the ball away and both sets of players desperate not to lose rather than being desperate to win.
And yet, with a minute of extra time remaining, Chile came within millimeters of dumping Brazil out of the World Cup.
Maurico Pinilla, a substitute, received the ball just outside the penalty area before swiveling sharply and smashing an audacious effort against the crossbar.
“That near goal right at the end has been really hard for us,” Chile coach Sampaoli told reporters.
“If we had scored, we would have made history for ever. It would have been the ‘Mineirazo’. We so nearly won.”
With the crossbar still shaking, both sets of players were left to confront the dreaded scenario of penalty kicks.
Luiz was the first man to step up — showing no sign of being overawed by the occasion and coolly firing the ball past Bravo.
Then it was left to Cesar to steal the show as he denied Pinilla and Sanchez with two fine saves.
Brazil appeared to be coasting but there was still a twist in the tale as Willian and then Hulk both failed and Aranguiz and Marcelo Diaz brought Chile level.
Neymar then showed nerves of steel to put Brazil back in front before Jara struck his effort against the inside of the post.
Up stepped Jara — the weight of a nation upon his shoulders and a sea of yellow shirts which would drown him given the chance.
The defender stepped up and struck his kick to the goalkeeper’s left only for the ball to hit the inside of the post and roll away to safety.
First, there was silence. Then came the roar — the outpouring of relief. Then the singing, the dancing, the realization that Brazil’s dream remains alive.
While Chile’s players fell to the ground inconsolable with grief, Brazil’s ran into each others arms and celebrated.
Lucky? Fortuitous? Nobody wearing yellow will care. The dream lives on.