A World Cup contender is under pressure every time they play at football’s biggest event. That pressure becomes two fold when the national team represents the country in a tournament staged in its own backyard. In the case of Brazil, the pressure is three fold.
The Selecao, who play Colombia tonight in the first quarter final, are under unprecedented pressure.
Seconds after knocking out Chile in a dramatic second round shoot-out of a tense match, a number of Brazilian players broke down.
Neymar, the team’s superstar and talisman at a tender age of 22, was in tears. Julio Cesar was sobbing uncontrollably.
The emotional scenes in Belo Horizonte’s Estadio Mineirao were the kind expected of a team that had just won, or lost, the World Cup. They weren’t scenes anyone could have projected for the record champions after advancement to the last eight.
It was a close shave against Chile. Brazil rode their luck. But for the width of the cross bar, Chile would be in the last eight. And Brazil would be out. But they survived and now live to die another day.
Colombia, another South American team, is the next hurdle.
In the last eight of any World Cup, there are no easy games. History is on Brazil’s side but it doesn’t play. History is for the statisticians. Colombia were dark horses at the beginning of the tournament. They still are. Every World Cup has a dark horse and Colombia fit the bill.
Case for Rodriguez
James Rodriguez is Colombia’s answer to Brazil’s Neymar. The former has five goals, top scorer of the tournament so far. But with two assists, it is arguable that he is the World Cup’s outstanding individual so far.
James, as Colombians know him, is also in contention for goal of the tournament; that peach of a strike against Uruguay.
Yet somehow you get the feeling James would trade all his individual honours for a Colombia place in the last four.
James has been majestic. But he has enjoyed help from Juan Guillermo Cuadrado who has assisted four goals for Colombia. The Los Cafeteros, Colombia’s nickname to mean The Coffeers, boast the top scorer and top creator. They are a dangerous side by all accounts.
The dilemma for Brazil is getting the team going when Neymar is shackled. Neymar won’t rescue Brazil always. There will be games when he is marked out.
The home fans will hope that is not today in Fortaleza.
Fred has been an absolute disappointment while the energetic Hulk is still searching for a first World Cup goal. In a tournament widely lauded for its attacking football, Brazil’s contribution to the free flowing nature of the games has at best been minimal, the Cameroon mauling allowed.
The worrisome bit for Colombia could well be that Brazil can’t be any worse than they were in Belo Horizonte. The country expects a response. Brazil have reached the last eight not playing well.
That is a strength that Luis Felipe Scolari will reiterate to the team in a bid to get an improved performance.
A World Cup exit for the host nation remains unthinkable.