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That Julio Cesar was adjudged Man of the Match told the story of Brazil's survival in this World Cup. They were seconds away from leaving the party they are hosting with such colour and pomp. And after being red hot for so long if Chile fluffed their lines in the penalty shootout, it was because of the goalkeeper everyone had given up on. Everyone, barring a certain Luiz Felipe Scolari that is.
Brazil will also have to thank the crowd at the Estadio Mineirao on Saturday afternoon for getting out of jail. They chanted 'I believe' when everything was going against the home team. Chile were showing skills with the ball you would expect from the players of the home team, so what if this is one groomed by Scolari for whom a win matters more than beautiful football.
And the crowd wolf-whistled Chile when each of their penalty- takers stepped up. Two of them, substitute Mauricio Pinilla and Alexis Sanches, failed to convert and a third, Gonzalo Jara, drove to Cesar's left but the goalie managed to deflect it into the upright. Maybe, Brazil should also thank the framework at one of the Mineirao's goals. And Scolari's luck in shootouts as any England fan won't forget.
Had substitute Mauricio Pinilla's shot not thudded into the horizontal two minutes from the penalties, Brazil would have been out this World Cup. Ditto in the 89th minute had Chile managed to get the ball to an unmarked Sanchez. That they survived this ordeal would give them confidence for the battles ahead, battles that are only going to get tougher. It is possibly the only positive Brazil can glean from this escape to victory.
The great Tostao, a member of Brazil's World Cup winning team of 1970, has been quoted as saying that Brazil have two plans in this World Cup: first, pass the ball to Neymar, second pass the ball to Neymar. This afternoon, Chile trapped Neymar with some exceptional zonal marking. Chile's centre-back trio of Francisco Silva, Gary Medel and Jara too played with an amazing amount of assurance against a team playing at home and is aiming for a sixth World Cup.
And when they couldn't, their goalkeeper Claudio Bravo came to the rescue of the red shirts.
With Neymar not being able to score, the soft underbelly of this side showed up. With the kind of game he had, Hulk showed it is possible to have a nightmare in the blazing afternoon sun. He missed the penalty in the shootout, conceded possession softy leading to Chile's equaliser, had a goal disallowed for using his hand to control the ball and somehow shin it in, and clumsily fell to try and win a penalty. Barring a late second-half shot, Hulk was incredibly ordinary.
The same can be said about Fred too. This player from Belo Horizonte has scored a lot of goals in the Brazilian league and in the Confederations Cup last year. Maybe he is saving them for later in the tournament. Fred's replacement Jo wasn't much better either. His missing a connection late in the game encapsulated Brazil's problems in the front third, problems that refuse to go away.
Chile had neutralised Spain with their pressing and speed. Against Brazil they patiently probed for an opening and pounced on it when they get one. Like when Hulk let his concentration slip and Sanchez found space to drive home the equaliser.
Brazil never gave up trying but by midway through the second half, they had lost composure. Passes were overcooked and moves broke down with the predictability of night following day as Diaz and Charles Aranguiz joined forces with the back three and wingbacks Eugenio Mena and Mauricio Isla to stifle Brazil in the middle. Still, twice Oscar and Neymar linked up showing that this is a partnership that, if backed by better attacking players, will serve Brazil well in future.
As the game went on, Chile also showed they weren't just about parking the bus. A back-heel from Arturo Vidal opened up Brazil's defence like Andrea Pirlo's dummy had England gripping air. Deep in the second half, Pinilla too showed what Vidal can, he can too. Sanchez too had a back-heel that nearly found a teammate. Cesar was called into action twice in the second half to make effective saves and once in the first when Luiz Gustavo lost the ball. Chile wanted to win this in regulation time and almost did.