Center-backs Thiago Silva and David Luiz came to Brazil’s aid with a goal apiece as the hosts held off the challenge of Colombia and secure a World Cup quarterfinal against Germany on Friday in Fortaleza, 2-1.
In another clash for the hosts against a South American opponent, this time Brazil prevailed without the need for the drama of extra time and penalties, but, as against Chile, their progress was again anything but serene. A fast, impressive start ultimately proved crucial, with Thiago Silva bundling in a corner after just seven minutes. Increasingly the match devolved into a scrappy affair, with Brazil’s impressive early play fading greatly after the interval and increasingly revolving around physicality and often over-physicality.
Still, Colombia were unable to take advantage of Brazil’s struggles to control the tempo of the game, as they failed to reproduce the thrilling attacking play that made them the neutrals’ favorites through the early rounds. A thunderous free-kick from Luiz midway through the second half appeared to finally give Brazil the relief they craved, but a penalty from James Rodriguez with 10 minutes remaining ensured another tense finish. As it turned out, Rodriguez’s sixth goal of a brilliant competition for the star midfielder was to be his last, with Brazil again just doing enough.
Against a genuine power in the last four, the level of Brazil’s performance will surely have to move up at least a level once more. Their quest of making it past Germany and into the final in the Maracana will be further complicated by a suspension for their captain Thiago Silva and potentially an injury to Neymar, who was forced off late on.
The end of the match came in sharp contrast to the beginning, when Brazil came out producing their best play of the World Cup to date. The ferocious early tempo from Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side helped to overawe Colombia, which had never previously beaten their South American neighbors in Brazil. It wasn’t long before Brazil were ahead and, as against Chile, it came from a set-piece converted by one of their central defenders. This time, with everyone drawn toward the near post from a corner, Silva was allowed to sneak in at the back post, as Carlos Sánchez switched off, and divert the ball into the net off his knee.
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Unlike against Chile, Brazil initially kept up the pressure after going ahead. Hulk was the liveliest attacker and twice struck shots that required Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina to make fine saves. Yet, while Brazil were on top, the match was being played at such a frenetic pace and with such little structure that there were also ample opportunities for Colombia to exploit on the break.
Without the suspended Luiz Gustavo, Brazil’s midfield was even more open than it had been earlier in the tournament. And Rodríguez almost exploited that space when surging through the middle and leading a break in which Brazil were outnumbered, but Colombia were unable to take advantage.
Brazil’s tactics for dealing with Rodríguez primarily appeared to revolve around roughing him up. Both Rodríguez and Colombia’s other main danger man Juan Cuadrado were on the receiving ends of six fouls each. Those were just a few of the 31 fouls inflicted by Brazil in the match, more than any other team in the tournament. Colombia were far from saints, either, and Spanish referee Carlos Velasco must take a large share of the blame for waiting until the 40th foul of the contest to award a first yellow card.
The failure of the referee to take earlier action led to a second half that was short on quality. Lacking a quality passer in midfield, when Brazil’s tempo dipped in the second half they were unable to take the sting out of the game by having someone put their foot on the ball and simply keep possession. The hosts were indebted to Silva adding to his goal with an excellent defensive performance.
And when Luiz fired past Ospina in the 68th minute, it appeared that Brazil would see out the win with a much-desired degree of comfort. The man who has just become the most expensive defender in history ran up to the ball 35 yards out and struck it with his familiar technique that saw it swerve wickedly. Still, Ospina will be disappointed having taken a step the wrong way and then being unable to get back across to a shot that would otherwise have been reachable.
Colombia, already enjoying the most successful World Cup in their history, were not quite done. The introduction of Carlos Bacca gave Colombia an extra offensive threat and the Sevilla striker soon won a penalty to help get his side right back into the contest. Played in behind Brazil’s defense, Bacca lifted the ball over Julio Cesar and the Brazil goalkeeper brought Bacca down with his legs to lead to a straightforward penalty. Cesar was somewhat fortunate that the card he was shown was just yellow rather than red.
Rodríguez, who admirably kept trying to make something happen despite his rough treatment, confidently slotted home from the penalty spot, but just over 10 minutes later he was in floods of tears as his and Colombia’s memorable contribution to the World Cup came to an end. Brazil again survived, but now face an anxious wait for news of their star man.