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Jack: Breathtaking Brazil 2014 returns in all its glory

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Kristian Jack
6/28/2014 7:48:32 PM
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Day in 100 words or less

Welcome back Brazil 2014. Oh how we missed you. Gone for just a day, you returned for us all to enjoy on Saturday, as a mini Copa America took place to start the knock out stages. You didn't return with a little tease. You didn't flirt with us, showing brief moments that will take our breath away. No, no. You were even more gorgeous than we remembered, handing us a game that brought all of our emotions to the core and a sensational, radiant maestro who continues to shine light on all that is glorious about you.

Brazil 1-1 Chile (Brazil win 3-2 on pens)

After arguably the greatest group stage to ever grace a World Cup we could have understood if the World Cup's knock-out stages had given us a couple of games low on drama, particularly with what was on the line.

What a load of nonsense.

Brazil 2014 has laughed in the face of hyperbole at past World Cups, tactical trends and many other stereotypes and it was at it again on Saturday, handing us an instant classic the moment the knock out stages began.

There is nothing like a World Cup. Nothing. Part of what makes it so incredible special is watching teams dance so close to that line of elimination.

On Saturday in the Belo Horizonte sunshine, the host nation danced precariously close to that line.

It is a line that past champions have flirted with often, including in the last 16.

Back in 2006, Italy needed a 95th minute controversial winner from Francesco Totti to send Australia home and in 1998 holders France couldn't get by Paraguay until a 113th minute golden goal winner by Laurent Blanc.

Brazil clearly have a long way to go to be added to that list but the millions of Brazilians watching this game have their mind on one thing and one thing only - the World Cup trophy.

Before Saturday, the mandate was clear. Win four games and lift the trophy inside the Maracana on July 13th. Easier said than done.

Chile were always the team they didn't want to face. When the draw was made, many looked at a possible Brazil-Spain knockout game but Luiz Felipe Scolari feared Chile more.

On Saturday, we found out why. For a nation that expects, the atmosphere was like a carnival at kick-off. There was very little sense of tension. Brazil came out of the blocks flying, pressing high, recovering balls quickly and countering through the blistering speed of Neymar. A goal seemed inevitable and it came through the route all Chile fans feared. Neymar's corner, flicked on by Thiago Silva, and poked in by David Luiz at the back post ignited the carnival further. Brazil were in complete control and Chile were shell-shocked, overawed by the occasion.

Then another error on Brazil's left side of their defence and the lethal combination of Eduardo Vargas and Alexis Sanchez gave them the goal they needed. Chile's nerves were gone and their confidence blossomed.

Brazil, through Hulk, had some of the game's better chances in the second half but Chile were the better side. The carnival disappeared and the tension flooded the stadium.

Eleven players in yellow with the weight of over 200 million people on their shoulders. Chile grew stronger sensing an opportunity. Jorge Sampaoli, their wonderfully animated coach, did what he could but he was powerless. Deep in thought must have been 'what could have been' if Arturo Vidal was anywhere close to the player Juventus fans have been lucky to watch closely. Clearly not fit, the talisman was withdrawn from the cauldron close to the end of 90 minutes and it was a cruel blow for such a special player who clearly could have had a massive influence on this game if not for knee surgery last month.

Extra time came, Chile tired, Brazil tightened and penalties were inevitable, even though Mauricio Pinilla smashed the bar in the final seconds. The tension was unbearable for many and then referee Howard Webb got to do what he looked destined to do four years ago.

'The lottery' of penalties it was called by the commentator. How naive. As the game came to a climax, both sides will have statistical analysis on each of the players.

Even prepared writers had the stats.

Julio Cesar had stopped six of 18 penalties in the last five years. Claudio Bravo had faced 16 spot kicks and prevented three.

These stats and plenty more make the experience and education of preparing for a shootout much more worthwhile.

For example, here is how Gareth Wheeler and I prepared for the penalties on TSN Radio.

Seven of the last eight winners in World Cup shootouts went first and Brazil won the toss and did exactly that. David Luiz's opener was worth much more than just one goal. When Julio Cesar saved from Pinilla the odds stacked heavily against the visitors. Only four of the previous 22 World Cup shootouts had seen a team miss first and advance. Chile would get it back to 2-2 through four shootouts but Brazil still had the advantage, knowing a goal would put their opponents in a 'must score' scenario.

That pressure fell on Neymar. As the television screens worldwide showed Marcelo Diaz celebrating his penalty, the face of the Brazilian side broke away from his teammates and made the lonely walk by himself. From the moment the eighth penalty was kicked, Neymar had 33 seconds to think about whatever entered his mind. Then he received the ball off the referee and placed it down. 52 seconds had now ticked by before he started his run up. He did a little jig of a dance, oh so close to the line of elimination, checked his run, waiting for the 'keeper to move but it never happened, forcing him to choose a side. Naturally, Neymar went to his natural side (right footed players hitting it to the left) sliding it to the 'keeper's right. David Luiz was their to greet him as he walked back, a very important sign of unity and intimidation as Chile's fifth taker walked by.Gonzalo Jara then had to score. He went to his unnatural side, guessed correctly by Julio Cesar, but the post kept the ball out and Brazil partied long into the night.

Brazil had escaped. They were, once again, miles away from the standard they need to reach but now they are only three games away from their goal. Julio Cesar, Thiago Silva, Hulk and Neymar stood out for the Brazilians while many others didn't. A move to 4-3-3 in the second half, with Oscar, centrally and deeper, seems to be the right way going forward but Neymar's boys will need to be much, much better to stay in this tournament. After all, he is coming up against another absolute star number ten in yellow...

Colombia 2-0 Uruguay

Uruguay made no friends in the wake of the latest Luis Suarez biting incident. Oscar Washington Tabarez is a fine gentleman who has done wonders for that country and that federation but his 12 minute rant at a press conference on Friday was sad to see. It was seen as a way of firing up his team but, in truth, they were lifeless in attack once again. It was always going to be difficult for the team to come from behind, much like against Costa Rica (and not against England and Italy) and once one moment of brilliance turned the game, Uruguay were very close to joining Suarez at home.

James Rodriguez is now the undisputed player of the tournament so far. A man who wasn't even born the last, and only, time Colombia played a knock out round at the World Cup (1990). His goal changed the game and changed the path for his country as they marched down a road to the World Cup quarter finals for the first time ever. It was a goal you will see over and over again. A goal made by spatial awareness, supreme football intelligence and incredible technique.

27:18 James moves into space between the lines...

27:24 The play develops and still he finds space in that area, constantly moving...

27:27 Still operating between the lines, showing for the ball...

27:31 Here is the brilliance. Ball finally comes his way and here is "the look". A glance behind to see if any defenders are coming tight behind him. Knowing they are not he plays out what is about to happen in his mind before the ball reaches him...

Setting himself up for the best goal of the World Cup so far...

Man of the day

Nominees...

Neymar - his pace was a constant threat for Chile and his penalty ended up sending them home.

Claudio Bravo - the Chilean goalkeeper was excellent throughout the match and made a big save in the shootout.

Julio Cesar - made two superb stops to turn the tide in the shootout.

James Rodriguez - a wonderful strike followed by a tap in he helped create meant he, fittingly, carried Colombia into the last eight.

Juan Cuadrado - Buried in the shadow of James, the winger has been superb in this tournament and was no different against Uruguay.

The winner...

Julio Cesar - Seen as the villain of the 2010 World Cup exit, the Brazilian goalkeeper was trusted by his manager to be the number one at the World Cup even when he was on the bench at QPR. He returned that trust and guided Brazil over an enormous hurdle.

What comes next?

Netherlands vs Mexico (12pm/9am) and Greece vs Costa Rica (4pm/1pm).

Burning question for Sunday

Do the Netherlands have the midfield trio to be able to match up and keep the ball off Mexico's effective midfield three?

Stat of Day 17

Eight of the last nine teams to win a World Cup penalty shootout have taken the first penalty.



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