Brazil 2014: Round of 16, Day One Preview
Ready for round two? OTF’s Austin Fido brings you a preview of the first day’s matches in the World Cup’s round of 16…
Just like that, after the mad scramble of the last round of group matches, the we’re-losing-but-we’re-also-winning chaos of calculating goal differences and goals scored and how-many-tiebreakers-before-coin-toss, the World Cup gets very simple: the knockout rounds.
No more worrying about whether your team is losing by too much or winning by too little. It’s win or (maybe after extra time and a penalty shootout) go home.
The tournament structure is further simplified by the fact each team playing on the same day is playing for the same prize: a place in the same quarterfinal. So the first day’s second-round pairings – Brazil vs. Chile and Colombia vs Uruguay – will feed their winners into a July 4th face-off in Fortaleza.
Here’s how things might play out in the round of 16 for CONMEBOL’s finest (except for Argentina – we’ll catch up with them later in this preview series)…
Second Round, Day 1, June 28: CONMEBOL Corner
A little earlier than expected perhaps, but we’ve reached that point in the party where the host withdraws into a room with a handful of close friends, and only one will emerge later on while the rest stay passed out on the floor.
The group stage has bequeathed us a mini Copa America: Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Uruguay – duking it out for a semifinal spot. Yes, the smart money (and the stupid money, and the money that just knows how get by on whatever talent it was given – all the money, basically) is on Brazil to be the last South American standing from this quartet.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. This is merely the round of 16, and only two of the four shall fall at this stage.
The expectation is Brazil will win: because home advantage, because Neymar, because Big Phil, because pretty much everyone in this squad is good enough to be on any other team in the tournament, or start for Toronto FC.
The question is how will Brazil win. Thus far, two big wins have come with a little help from the referees and dodgy goalkeeping; absent those ingredients, the Green-and-Yellow was held 0-0 by Mexico.
The host nation’s players don’t need the gifts they’ve been given to date: if they beat Chile, let it be because they are better rather than more fortunate.
For Chile, it is yet another episode in the nation’s thus far futile quest to beat Brazil in a World Cup. In 1962, La Roja made it to the semifinals on home soil – and no further: beaten 4-2 by Brazil. In 1998, Chile got a second round chance to make amends for that historic humiliation, and lost 4-1. In 2010, another shot at revenge – another loss, 3-0.
Chile always loses to Brazil in World Cups. Indeed, Chile usually loses to Brazil anywhere: the head-to-head record between the two nations numbers 68 matches; La Roja has won seven of them (and Brazil, 48).
These teams last met in 2013, twice: in April, Chile managed a 2-2 draw in Belo Horizonte, which happens to be the venue for this match; but in November Brazil won out 2-1 in Toronto.
Maybe La Roja can channel the memory of Belo Horizonte ’13 into a surprise this time around. The team is built around a talented generation of players in their prime: ‘keeper Claudio Bravo is 31; Alexis Sanchez is 25; Arturo Vidal, 27. But Vidal had his knee knifed (surgically) in May, and it’s still not clear whether he’s as fit as will be required for him to run the show in midfield the way he certainly can when both legs are working properly.
Throw in the possibility Gary Medel isn’t ready to go either, and the team starts to look a little thin.
Coach Jorge Sampaoli is an ideologue from the Marcelo Bielsa school: he likes quick, attacking, high-pressing play. It makes Chile fun to watch and hard to handle: the team has lost just three of its last 18 games.
But if you break down the 2014 World Cup knockout rounds according to reputation, the no-surprises semi-finalists (i.e. the favorites in every match up for the next two rounds) would be Argentina, Brazil, Germany and the Netherlands.
Those three losses Chile suffered in its last 18 matches: against Brazil, Germany and the Netherlands. In CONMEBOL qualifying for this tournament, Chile lost both matches to Argentina.
The suspicion is La Roja is a good team – better than most – but not as good as the very best around at the moment.
Sampaoli and his men will get 90 minutes (maybe a little extra, who knows) to prove otherwise.
Someone has to lose to Brazil in the quarterfinal, and its the privilege of Colombia and Uruguay to decide who that will be.
La Celeste, of course, won this tournament the last time it was in Brazil – and they will NEVER LET YOU FORGET THIS. And they have the right to be taken seriously as contenders: Uruguay hit the semifinals of the last World Cup and the 2013 Confederations Cup, and won Copa America in between. So this the reigning champion of CONMEBOL we’re talking about.
Colombia spent the 1990’s being everyone’s favorite World Cup dark horse, didn’t amount to much, won the 2001 Copa America, and then spent 10 years sulking about what might have been. But Los Cafeteros are good again now, though somehow 43-year-old Faryd Mondragon is still in the squad.
Both teams have a similar problem on paper: each is captained by a central defender considered past his best (33-year-old Diego Lugano for Uruguay; 38-year-old Mario Yepes for Colombia); each is missing its star striker.
The problem is arguably more acute for Uruguay, however. La Celeste has played one game in this World Cup without Luis Suarez, and it got hammered by Costa Rica in that one. Colombia, on the other hand, hasn’t had Falcao at all, but is the second-highest scoring team in the tournament after the group stage.
We have seen Uruguay’s defense creak under the strain of trying to withhold a young talent like Joel Campbell, and Colombia has some impressive young guns of its own – James Rodriguez being a star of the tournament so far.
Whereas we haven’t seen much evidence from La Celeste of any great ability to win a game without Suarez to either score the goals or distract the opposition with his innovative approach to gamesmanship.
So we’ll give Los Cafeteros the edge in this one.
Austin Fido is OTF’s USMNT and CONCACAF editor, but he likes a little CONMEBOL now and then. Follow him @canetop.