It’s getting into the business end of the World Cup, with the tournament now into the quarter-final stage. All eight group winners made it through their last 16 contests, the first time this has happened in the history of the World Cup. With some of the higher ranked teams now going head to head, there will be a few big teams who will exit the competition at this stage, making these matches as crucial as ever. The hosts Brazil came through a gruelling encounter against a stubborn Chile team who were unlucky to go out on penalties. Scolari’s men will need to be at their very best however against a Colombia side who have played arguably the best football in the tournament so far. With Brazil needing the win for their country and Colombia going in as dark horses, this all South-American tie is set up to be something special.
Brazil, again, were nowhere near their best against Chile even though they took the lead early on. In baking hot temperatures, both Brazil and Chile looked to be tiring out going into extra time after Alexis Sanchez equalised. The hosts will have been mightily relieved after seeing a shot from Pinilla hit the woodwork just before the end of extra time. After a drama filled penalty shoot-out, Brazil came out victorious after Jara missed the crucial spot-kick for Chile, to the joy of many in the stadium as well as all around the country.
Things haven’t gone quite as planned so far for Brazil in the tournament, with the free-flowing attacking play normally associated with Brazilian sides missing from their displays thus far. Players such as Fred and Hulk have been struggling to find their best form in the World Cup and the team has relied heavily upon their poster boy Neymar, who has been excellent so far, scoring four goals. Scolari will be urging his men to give it their all on Friday evening, with the hopes of millions resting upon the result.
Brazil are likely to go into the contest with the same back four as usual but Luis Gustavo is suspended meaning that either Ramires or Paulinho will partner Fernandinho in the defensive midfield positions.
In terms of attack, Scolari may choose to take out Hulk, who has been struggling to find form, and replace him with Chelsea’s Willian. That like-for-like switch wouldn’t affect the formation with Willian deployed in Hulk’s left wing position. This would leave Oscar on the right and Neymar, who has recovered from a knee injury sustained in the clash with Chile, just behind Fred up front.
Some would say that Neymar has carried the Brazilian team thus far in the tournament, and who could blame them. Without the Barcelona man, there would be a lack of flare as well as firepower which has been missing from some of Brazil’s other attacking players. Having scored four times already in the competition, he has also created nine chances as well as having an 80% pass success rate.
Neymar did well to play out the whole match against Chile as he clearly troubled by a knee problem. He has recovered however to play in the quarter final clash much to the relief of the team and fans alike. The 22-year-old did score a vital spot kick in the penalty shoot out with the pressure on and its moments like those that show whether quality players have the nerve to make it count in the important moments in crucial matches.
Colombia produced the most convincing display out of all the quarter-finalists after comfortably taking out Uruguay 2-0 in their last 16 clash. Many thought that the match would be close even though Uruguay had star striker Luis Suarez banned for a biting incident. However, Colombia were easily the better South American side and controlled much of the match. Even though Colombia entered the World Cup without their main goal scorer Falcao due to injury, it hasn’t affected their performances whatsoever with the midfield being the most effective area for Peckerman’s side. With the likes of James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado in sensational form, they will go into the match full of confidence and ready to cause an upset which will make many heads turn.
The South American side aren’t likely to make drastic changes to a winning side and will want to keep the current balance of the squad untouched.
However, Victor Ibarbo may step back into the squad in favour of one of the strikers. Ibarbo would fill in the right wing position with Cuadrado on the left and Rodriguez playing just off the striker. Martinez and Gutiérrez both started the last match up front but one is most likely going to drop to the bench for this match.
Arguably the player of the tournament so far, Rodriguez has lit the World Cup alight with his dazzling displays in the number nine role. Playing just off the front man, James (as he is more formally known) has been excellent so far in terms of his ball distribution and intricate play as well as scoring five goals so far, making him top scorer at the moment. The Monaco midfielder has actually scored in every game of Colombia’s World Cup run so far, adding two assists in process.
His first goal against Uruguay has been tipped to win goal of the tournament and rightly so. The strike summed up James’s awareness to spot the keeper slightly off his line, along with his ball control to chest and then hit the ball as sweetly as you like, dipping into the crossbar and then into the net, giving Muslera no chance in goal. He scored both goals in the 2-0 win and will want a similar impact again against Brazil.
My head says Brazil and my heart says Colombia but as hosts, I feel as though Brazil will at least make the semi-final stage but again the Colombians will not make this an easy contest and we may see another game going the distance.
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