In a game of incalculably fine margins, twice the frame of the goal came to Brazil’s rescue to save them from disaster and deny Chile the most famous win in their history. With the score tied at 1-1 heading into the final seconds of extra time in a tension-filled Round of 16 tie in Belo Horizonte, Chile substitute Mauricio Pinilla thundered a shot from the edge of the area that had Julio Cesar beaten but crashed back off the crossbar.
Just a few minutes later, with Chile now needing to score to take a penalty shootout to sudden death in order to try and finally separate these two teams, Brazil were saved by the woodwork once more. This time Gonzalo Jara’s penalty came back off the inside of the post and somehow, instead of deflecting back into the net, bounced away the other side of the line. Brazil were through to the quarterfinals while Chile were heading home.
There were, of course, joyous celebrations by those decked out in yellow, but the unrelenting tears from Brazil’s star man Neymar were a more accurate reflection of the true emotions. With so much pressure on this team to deliver an expectant nation a first-ever World Cup trophy on home soil, Brazil had survived the unthinkable of an early exit. The relief was all too much.
In a breathless first half, Brazil had deservedly taken the lead, albeit through fortunate means, when Jara appeared to get the final touch to Thiago Silva’s flick on from a corner, although David Luiz was certainly claiming that the goal was his. But as Chile began to find their feet, some sloppiness from Brazil allowed their opponents to pull level just past the half-hour mark. Alexis Sánchez finished clinically after some typically targeted Chile pressing seized upon Hulk’s error.
The second half and extra time was perhaps expectedly, far less explosive. Still, even when the quality diminished, the tension was more than enough to sustain the entertainment. It was Chile which looked considerably the more composed side in the second half, but an anxious, hurried Brazil had the better chances before penalties were required.
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A 3-2 win in the shootout took them through to the quarterfinals where, having already used up their second life, they will likely have to get better if they are to prevail once more. Chile now agonizingly head home, but having earned plaudits a plenty. After dethroning holders Spain, they have now taken the favorites right to the edge.
It was Brazil who had started the better, however. The spine-tingling a-cappella-extended renditions of both national anthems before kickoff had set the mood for a grand occasion that the match more than lived up to. While Brazil, for the first time in this World Cup, were fired up by the emotion, Chile appeared somewhat cowed by the occasion. Or perhaps the reality of having to defeat a country that comfortably got the better of them at the same stage four years ago and that Chile had never beaten on Brazilian soil hit home.
The high pressing of Brazil, which had Fernandinho starting in place of Paulinho in midfield, caught Chile off guard early on. Neymar was threatening to decide the match single-handedly with his direct running, but it was his set-piece that brought about the opening goal. In the 18th minute, Brazil took advantage of their considerable height advantage when Thiago Silva flicked on Neymar’s corner and Jara and Luiz tussled for it at the back post; the decisive touch appearing to come from a defender, whose day was yet to get far worse.
While slowly getting into the game, Chile had created little of note until drawing level. Near the byline on the left, Hulk tried to return the ball to Marcelo following a throw-in, but his pass was careless and soft. Eduardo Vargas, in trademark Chilean fashion pounced and, without looking, brilliantly, or fortunately, found Sánchez’s run into the box. The brilliant Barcelona forward’s low finish beat Julio Cesar low to his side.
With almost a repeat scenario, Chile were so nearly ahead before the break. This time it was Sánchez who found the all-energy Charles Aránguiz, but Luiz made a superb last-ditch challenge to avert a certain goal.
All of Brazil thought it was they who had grabbed the lead 10 minutes into the second half. Hulk took down a cross from the left before finishing into the corner, but the controlling had been done with his arm and the goal rightly ruled out. As the minutes ticked on with the scores still level, the crowd’s jubilant support of earlier turned into nervous murmurings that were being reflected in their team’s performance. Brazil were now anxious, their passing imprecise and increasingly direct. A stop-start contest appeared to be heading Chile’s way. It took a fine stop from Cesar to deny Aránguiz once more.
Hulk was the one player for Brazil still looking capable of ignoring the tension to take the game by its horns. His superb cross should have been converted by Jo, but the substitute proved as disappointing as the striker he replaced, Fred, when he completely missed the ball with his attempted shot. While Neymar had slowed, he still could have won the contest in normal time had his header from the center of the box been a couple of yards either side of Claudio Bravo, rather than straight at the Barcelona-bound Chile goalkeeper.
Fatigue took over as the contest moved into extra time, with Chile appearing the more affected. Still, it was Jorge Sampaoli’s men who came closest to avoiding penalties when Pinilla was cruelly denied by the crossbar after a superb effort.
Cesar had been beaten on that occasion, but when it came to penalties, the veteran, forced to go in loan to Major League Soccer side Toronto FC just to get some games ahead of the World Cup, atoned for his error that contributed to Brazil being knocked out four years ago. The 34-year-old saved Chile’s first two penalties, from Pinilla and then Sánchez, but a miss form Willian and Bravo’s save from Hulk kept Chile afloat. It was to be a most temporary of reprieves. Neymar sent Bravo the wrong way before Jara found Cesar’s trusty woodwork to keep Brazil alive by the skin of their teeth.