World Cup

When Brazilians breathed a sigh of relief

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Neymar gets down to his knees in prayer during the post-match penalty shoot-out between Chile and his side Brazil. The 22-year-old superstar scored the decisive penalty as Brazil eliminated Chile to set a date with Columbia in the quarterfinals. Neymar finished the Chile game with injury and now faces a fitness battle. PHOTO BY AFP 

By Mark Namanya in Brazil

Posted  Monday, June 30   2014 at  08:09

In Summary

Soccer. There was an air of desperation at Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte. The same could be said of the 12 fan fests, restaurants, bars and homes during the lunch time kickoff in sunny weather as Chile matched hosts Brazil punch for punch over 120 minutes

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When referee Howard Webb blew the full time whistle after 120 minutes in which Chile matched Brazil punch for punch, tension in every part of this vast country could be felt. It was in fact excruciating. The hosts Brazil were living on a knife edge. Chile had narrowly missed securing a place in the last eight after their forward Mauricia Pinalla powered his shot into the woodwork.

Had it been a few inches lower, Brazil were out. Still, there was the first penalty shootout of the 2014 World Cup final looming. Brazil’s chances were hinging on the lottery of post-match spot kicks.

There was an air of desperation at Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte. The same could be said of the 12 fan fests, restaurants, bars and homes during the lunch time kickoff in sunny weather. In the media centre at the Maracana, Brazilian journalists were sweating profusely, but their perspiration had nothing to do with the weather.

Many neutrals too were anxious. They had admired Chile’s work ethic against the five-time champions, who took every blow on the chin and delivered their own. But this was not the stage for Brazil to exit the World Cup, the reason neutrals were inclined to a Brazil victory.

“The World Cup would be dead,” remarked journalist Paul Hayward of the English newspaper Daily Telegraph as extra time beckoned.

He wasn’t wrong, the hyperbole excepted. The prospect of the host nation out of the tournament this early would have crushed the Samba mood. Brazilians have been prominently present at all matches including games where their country wasn’t playing. If the Selecao had exited, there was a strong likelihood Brazil fans were going to take a back seat throughout the tournament.

Shades of the infamous 1950 final at the Maracana appeared. In that final, hosts and favourites Brazil suffered one of football’s greatest all-time upsets when Uruguay stunned them 2-1 to win the World Cup.
To this day, it is a result that still reverberates in Brazilian football.

64 years later with Brazil hosting again, Estadio Mineirao was threatening to become another graveyard for the Selecao.
Brazil had led through a fortuitous David Luiz strike from a corner before Alexis Sanchez equalized from close range after Marcelo and Hulk conspired to concede possession on a routine throw-in.

Exceptional saves
There was nothing to separate both sides thereafter with the goalkeepers Julio Cesar and Claudio Brazil making exceptional saves to keep the scoreline 1-1.

Cesar parried away Charles Aranguiz’s well-struck effort in normal time before Bravo matched his opposite number with a more impressive stop of Hulk’s angled drive.

As with all stalemates after normal and extra time, the stage was set for the goalkeepers to decide the outcome. Pinilla and Sanchez were denied by Cesar but Willian shot his effort wide and Hulk’s kick was saved by Bravo. The pendulum swung this way and that. The faces on the benches of either side told a story of tortuous anguish. That anguish was most certainly cutting across the country.

Ultimately it came down to the final two kicks.
Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side had the advantage of taking theirs first, the 57, 714 fans – mostly theirs – watching in prayer. The spotlight fell on Neymar, a 22-year-old boy carrying football’s most successful country of all time by himself, to take Brazil’s fifth penalty.

Moments of the kind have failed legendary talents before. The names Roberto Baggio, Michel Platini, Diego Maradona, Zico and Socrates come to mind; great players who failed the psychological contest of beating a goalkeeper from 12 yards in post-match shootout at a World Cup.

Neymar is destined to become a Brazilian great like Zico and Socrates. The difference is that his rapid growth and development into a national talisman at such a tender age leave him on course to supplant Zico and Socrates.

Neymar wants to be a World Cup winner to emulate Ronaldo, Romario, Garrincha and Pele.

With 200 million Brazilians and the world watching, up he stepped. With time standing still, the Barcelona striker composed himself to bury his kick into the bottom right of the corner. Bravo had no chance.

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