Barcelona Boys Battle on World Stage: Brazil vs Chile Preview
Path to the Last 16
As is customary for the host nation of the FIFA World Cup, Brazil found themselves in Group A and also featured in the opening match of the tournament. Passion and expectation were abundant in equal measures as the Brazilian national anthem was bellowed throughout the stadium and the country. This became a theme for their next 2 matches too, and will almost certainly be an evocative addition to their remaining outings in the tournament.
Facing Croatia on day one proved to be quite a challenge to begin with. Contrary to all expectations, Brazil went behind in the first half when a low cross in from the left was glanced in off Marcelo after Nikica Jelavic had failed to connect properly with an effort on goal.
Lift off for the hosts came when their boy wonder broke through the middle of the pitch and found the very corner of the net with a left footed strike from outside the box. It was not the cleanest strike he will ever hit but you could feel the palpable relief as the ball nestled in the back of the net. That goal provided the impetus Brazil needed to go on and win the game relatively comfortably in the end but the result was not completely secure until Oscar struck to make it 3-1 in additional time.
They faced Mexico next who were also victorious in their first group match and so both sides had reasons for optimism. In what was far from a bore draw, the game ended goalless but both teams had chances to win. In a combination of poor Brazilian finishing and heroics from Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, the home fans were left dissatisfied as Neymar was unable to add to his 2 goals in the opening match. They did keep a relatively potent Mexican attack at bay for the duration of the game however, which should not be sniffed at.
Positivity was restored in their final group match against Cameroon. An early Neymar goal sent Brazil fans wild but it was not long until a deathly silence fell around the packed stadium when Joel Matip found himself unmarked in the six yard box and duly tapped home the equaliser. A mentally weak team could have crumbled at this point but Brazil found the resolve to repel a strong period of pressure from Cameroon before their talisman hit the back of the net for the second time in the game. From this moment on, barring the odd Cameroonian foray into the Brazilian danger-zone, the hosts were quite comfortable and ran out 4-1 winners. The score-line perhaps flattered them slightly, but the natives did not care one bit as the much maligned Fred also got on the score sheet.
Without a doubt, Chile have been one of the great stories to come out of the tournament so far. Now many people’s dark horses for the trophy itself, this is a huge shift from the position of possibly not even progressing from the group. Hugely positive signs were present after their opening match against a lively and motivated Australian team. Their defence remained relatively solid despite only leaving a few defenders back and their forwards created a multitude of chances. The trickery of Vargas and the pace and power of Alexis Sanchez were more than enough to break apart the Australian defence, and could well prove a problem for much more seasoned back lines.
The toughest test for Chile so far came when they lined up against the reigning World and European champions. Spain had been absolutely thrashed 4-0 by Netherlands in their opening game of the tournament and defeat would see them dumped unceremoniously from the competition. Motivation would surely be high from the Spanish, but their confidence would be fragile too. While Spain did create a couple of half chances, there was nothing too threatening for the Chilean goal. A terrific break and interplay between their forwards ended up with the South Americans nabbing the lead and before the Spanish could steady themselves and mount a serious challenge, Chile had a second. A horrendous mistake by Iker Casillas cannot be ignored in the build-up, but the finish by Aranguiz was crafted brilliantly. For the entire of the second half, it did not feel as though Chile were simply holding onto their position and were just as likely to grab a third as Spain were to nick a goal back.
That match did finish in a 2-0 victory for Chile, meaning both teams on 2 victories would meet in the final group match to decide who qualified in first place. Netherlands were quite impressive but their 2-0 victory over Chile did flatter them slightly. The hard-working South Americans probably deserved at least a goal out of the game and nobody would have batted an eyelid if they had secured a draw. Nevertheless, that defeat did mean that Chile qualified from Group B in second place and set a date with Brazil in the last 16.
Probable Starting Line-Ups
Neymar: Brazil’s main man and shouldering the hopes of an entire nation, it is difficult to describe how important Neymar is to his team. Every successful attack seems to come through him at some stage, whether the Barcelona forward drops a little deeper to pick up the ball and commence the move, beats some defenders on the way to supplying an inch perfect assist, or applies the finishing touch to a flowing move. Neymar has already hit 4 goals this World Cup, completely dominating 2 matches in the process and you have to imagine that he will have a huge influence against Chile.
Thiago Silva: Their best defender and Brazil’s captain, Thiago Silva is the most reliable member of the Samba Stars’ side. While all else around him are susceptible to making errors and forgetting their defensive responsibilities, Silva remains solid in all circumstances. He has already shown in this World Cup why his leadership qualities are vital for Brazil and having to bear such a great weight of expectation from the home fans, he may be needed on more than one occasion to rally the troops and not let the pressure get to them.
Alexis Sanchez: Chile’s star forward not only possesses marvellous talent and a wide array of attacking skills, but he is also one of the hardest workers in the side. His best attributes are of course in and around the box, but it is not a rare sight to find him tracking a full back all the way down a wing towards his own goal, or pressing high up the pitch to try and win possession back. We should expect him to grab at least a couple more goals if Chile go further in the tournament and will be the most consistent threat to the Brazilian back line.
Aranguiz: Perhaps a surprise package in this World Cup, Aranguiz is certainly on the radar now after some seriously impressive displays during the World Cup group phase. As with all of the Chileans, he is not afraid to sacrifice himself for the team and work hard both ways. Being blessed with terrific natural ability though means that once he reaches advanced positions, he is more than capable of capitalising. This was seen most acutely when Chile beat Spain 2-0. Aranguiz set up the first with a great cut back to Eduardo Vargas after coming onto the ball at pace, and then scored the second by taking a great touch to deter those around him before sumptuously caressing the ball past Iker Casillas.
Match-ups to watch out for
Neymar vs Mauricio Isla
Neymar predominantly works from the left but does float between the lines to attempt to get on the ball as frequently as possible. Mauricio Isla is a naturally attacking right back who has played adeptly at right midfield in the past but must surely only attack on rare occasions against Brazil. His primary concern should be stopping Neymar at source wherever possible, and only then taking advantage of the Brazilian’s lack of defensive instinct. If Isla can get on top of Neymar and force him to continually look inside for the ball, then he can exploit the space on the flank left behind.
Luis Gustavo vs Arturo Vidal
Luis Gustavo tends to be the deepest lying of Brazil’s midfield and in fact can often be found filling in for David Luiz when PSG’s new signing goes on one of his renowned charges forward. Gustavo adds much needed protection for the back four and has screened the defence relatively successfully so far, but in Chile and Arturo Vidal, it is likely that he will face his toughest test yet. Vidal was rested for the last World Cup group match to guard against suspension for this game, so he will be fit and firing and ready to unleash his non-stop approach on the hosts. Another hard worker, expect Vidal to do his utmost to close down Luis Gustavo in possession and then to attempt to run off him when Chile attack. If one player gets the better of the other in this area of the pitch, the entire match could be decided here.
Alexis Sanchez vs Thiago Silva
Perhaps the man who carries Chile’s greatest attacking threat is likely to go head to head with arguably the world’s best defender at the moment. Alexis Sanchez was instrumental in the free-flowing victory over Australia and the dismantling of Spain, so you feel if Thiago Silva can keep him quiet, it will go a long way to securing a Brazilian victory. Brazil’s captain may find it that much more difficult however because I do not expect Sanchez to play right up against him, instead flitting between positions to find space and cause the most damage. The way Silva marshals this situation will be key and he has to be very careful not to be pulled out of position while trying to nullify the threat of Sanchez.
Both teams are very dynamic going forward, but can also be quite suspect in defence simply due to a lack of numbers. So many men are often committed to attacks that a counter attack can result in being outnumbered. For me, this means that one thing is an absolute certainty; goals.
The first all-South American affair is destined to be an exciting one with some of the players of the tournament so far on display. Team ethic differs quite drastically however. Brazil have one player that they look to every time to perform and drive his side to a victory. Whether Neymar can cope with this pressure or not will be a key factor in Brazil’s progression. Whereas Chile are not without their superstars; Sanchez and Vidal for example, but you could not tell by watching them. They work just as hard as anyone for the team and this attitude makes the Chilean side greater than the sum of their individual parts.
Due to all of these considerations and some of the crucial direct match-ups that may well take place in the game, I foresee a magnificently end to end affair, possibly ending Brazil 3 – 2 Chile.