We are at the knockout rounds of what has been a rather excellent World Cup. Two teams who entered the tournament with almost opposite expectations square up in what now looks like a mouth-watering clash.
Luiz Felipe Scolari would know better than to give Brazil’s domination of Chile in the 1998 and 2010 editions any importance tonight. The difference couldn’t be further between Paris/Johannesburg and Belo Horizonte. This Chilean team just beat the reigning World and European champions 2-0 and in all honesty, borderline embarrassed them for the 90 minutes. They’ll be coming into this match with their tails up.
Brazil’s progress has almost been a story of one man taking to immense pressure at the biggest stage like fish to water. Neymar’s display against Cameroon was reminiscent of his days at Santos where he’d toy around with defenders at will. More than the 4 goals, it’s the impact he’s had on this team that makes the Selecao serious contenders now.
Scolari would have worries aplenty before putting his team out against the pace of Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas. The back four have been shoddy to say the least and should they continue their form, the two Chilean forwards would be in business sooner than the men in canary yellow would like. While Marcelo has been patchy, Dani Alves has had a shocker of a tournament by his standards. Someone who claims to be among the top few full backs in the world cannot be making mistakes as frequently as he’s made in the group stages. David Luiz, for all his athleticism and skill on the ball, is quite poor in terms of defensive discipline. His forward runs often leave Thiago Silva alone, something all three of their group-stage opponents exposed.
Fernandinho got 45 minutes in the final match against Cameroon and he was swift in showing Scolari why he needs to start ahead of Paulinho. Him and Luis Gustavo combined really well at the centre of the pitch in breaking up opponent play as well as starting moves. He got a goal to show for his efforts too. Their duel against Arturo Vidal and Marcelo Diaz could be the decider in a high-intensity match.
Chile are likely to continue with their 3-5-2 formation in all possibilities. Mauricio Isla vs Marcelo promises to be a fantastic battle as both like going forward and adding to the build-up play. Star man and probably the world’s best central-midfielder currently, Arturo Vidal is yet to be 100% fit according to coach Jorge Sampaoli, but going by what he showed against Spain, he’s quite a beast without full fitness too. He loves making runs into the box and along with Sanchez and Vargas, would cause the Brazil centre-backs a lot of problems.
Jorge Sampaoli’s biggest concern would be the height issues in his defense. Brazil boast of tall players to aim for during set-pieces and that’s one area where they can brutally expose the Chileans. Neymar’s corners and free-kicks are often directed at Luiz or Thiago Silva and Sampaoli’s men barely have someone to match them for height. Expect Scolari to keep an eye on this tonight.
It promises to be a fascinating match between two attacking teams and the midfield battle probably holds the key. Should Brazil win this, they’ll be a lot more confident going into the quarters as they would’ve gone past a mighty formidable opponent. If Chile bring back Maracanaco memories though, they’ll well be on their way to setting new standards in football.