Chile a huge test for Brazil
The business end of the World Cup starts, and the hosts face their toughest test, yet
ROUND OF 16
BRAZIL v CHILE
(Tonight, 11.59pm, SingTel mio TV Ch 141 & StarHub TV Ch 223)
Brazil, as expected, finished at the top of their group.
But that was the easy bit. The hard bit starts tonight with their second round clash against Chile.
The hosts have an excellent record here, they haven't lost to the Chileans since 2000, they have won 10 of their last 12 encounters. But that will count for nothing now.
There are as many reasons to be confident as there are to be cautious.
Neymar has started the tournament brilliantly, hitting four goals in three games. The supporters are still behind the players, despite fears that mounting civil problems would turn them against their team.
The feeling that this is Brazil's chance to erase the shame of 1950, that this is their destiny, continues to linger. But no one is kidding himself that the team are anywhere near its best, yet.
Croatia were difficult first opponents, beaten only with the help of a referee who made a string of incorrect calls. Mexico, who only just qualified for the tournament, were able to keep Brazil at bay and secure a 0-0 draw. Cameroon, one of the weakest teams in the competition, were able to score against them.
Neymar is performing, but few other players can match his efforts.
Manager Luiz Felipe Scolari has been worried about Chile ever since the draw was made, something that initially drew scorn from the press, but now looks rather prophetic.
"When I talked about Chile then, people made of fun of me," said Scolari, earlier this week.
"They said Chile weren't good enough. But I already knew the work of Jorge Sampaoli and their players. We already knew how they played."
Scolari is the key to success for Brazil. He has been here before, facing down the press and proving them wrong. He led a star-studded Brazil team to success in Japan in 2002.
They were a side of individuals with big personalities, but he meshed them into one, with Ronaldo at the apex.
This time he leads a Brazil that is not considered a great, expressive football side, but he certainly knows how to bring balance to it.
He has given the side a solid foundation, rarely altering either his tactics or his line-up, allowing his players to grow accustomed to expectations.
A few have let him down, Paulinho in particular who has been very poor this summer. If, as expected, the Tottenham man is replaced by Fernandinho, Brazil should look more confident and mobile in the middle.
Chile are taking no chances. Manager Jorge Sampaoli suspended a practice session on Thursday when a Brazilian news helicopter flew over their training ground while they were working on tactics. International espionage is alive and well in modern football. Some players took matters into their own hands.
"We tried to hit it with the ball," joked Mauricio Isla, "but we couldn't."
It's no surprise that spirits are high in the camp. Despite losing to Holland in the final group game, it's clear that Chile will be a match for anyone.
They are aggressive, both in the tackle and in their pressing. Their movement is as fluid as any team in the competition and they can score goals from all over the pitch. They will also welcome Arturo Vidal back to the team after he was rested last week. The Juventus midfielder is still recovering from knee surgery last month and is yet to complete a game.
"I am fine after the matches I played," he confirmed. "I feel better."
But Brazil is the toughest test they have faced. Their opponents have home support, they have home advantage, they have Neymar. And even if they haven't yet hit top gear, they will still take some stopping.
In the group stage you can get away with slipping up in one match but winning the other two, but now games can be decided by a single goal. We cannot afford to make mistakes.
- Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari knows its crunch time
I’ve talked to our fullbacks, our wingers: They (the Chileans) are short. With our height, free-kicks could be a good weapon for us.
- Brazil striker Fred wants his team to take advantage of their height