And it begins. After a group stage that had everything you could ask for and more, whether exceptional, good, bad, ugly, abhorrent, or just plain stupid, we can now look forward to the knockout stages.
It’s often said to save the best for last, but in Brazil’s meeting with Chile we might just have the biggest clash of all first and the hosts face their stiffest test of the tournament so far in Belo Horizonte.
For Soclari’s men nothing less than the tournament will suffice, and to this point their tournament has been what one would call only satisfactory. Qualification in top spot from the group was earned without too much fuss against Cameroon, but a 4-1 win against the Africans was what merely par for the course based on how the Africans had performed during the group, shipping the same number to Croatia and while only losing by one to Mexico, shipping three (two wrongly given for offside).
Against Croatia in their opener they looked rickety from the start and were struggling to break down Niko Kovac’s side before a pitiful dive from Fred earned a penalty and Oscar’s late winner may not have flattered them, a 3-1 scoreline definitely did. They had the better of the major chances but no such luck against Mexico, when Guillermo Ochoa was superb in denying them three points, but again they were matched by the industrious work rate of Miguel Herrera’s side and had three of their four outstanding chances come from just set pieces.
Then there is the worry of defence. Against Croatia the goal that saw them go 1-0 down was one of many incidents where Dani Alves and Marcelo were exposed consistently by Ivca Olic and Ivan Persic in particular and even a Cameroon side in disarray had plenty of success on the break as noted by their equaliser early in the second half.
These weaknesses have been a danger so far and are a massive incentive to Chile, who are nightmare opponents for Brazil in every sense but a mental one; The Selecao don’t boast a better recent record against any other top side, winning nine of their last 10 meetings and last losing over a decade ago. Further to this, Chile have reached the knockout stages of three World Cups, and in all three of them it’s been Brazil who’ve sent them packing.
However it may be unwise to look at the head to head record, home advantage, and consider this done and dusted. Chile may have lost out against the Dutch but in their victory against Spain they bought the intensity that has had so many raving about Jorge Sampoli’s side and they look perfectly matched to take on the Selecao.
Much has been said about Alexis Sanchez but he has looked a threat whenever gathering the ball and was one of few players to impress against a suffocating Dutch side in their group B decider and his pace and creativity looks the key weapon for Chile to use against a Brazil backline that has been exposed badly out wide. The return of Arturo Vidal to the midfield is likely to provide a much needed impetus from what we saw on Monday and one that provides a big disruption to a Brazilian midfield likely to contain Fernandinhio after a strong showing along with Luis Gustavo.
Eduardo Vargas has been at his very, best incisive and always threatening, and his pace will present a huge threat to David Luiz, while Charles Aránguiz has reached new level during this tournament. Their movement, similar but more clinical and energetic than the midfield options of Croatia with Kovatic, Modric, and Raktic, all of whom made hay for significant periods of their opener shifting the ball wide. And they also boast Mauricio Isla at his best, not a small asset for any side.
Brazil should be improved by now, and the home crowd is more of an asset than it could ever have been a hindrance – no matter what the expectation is upon them – but there’s an argument for suggesting that Chile are the best side they’ve played so far and the discrepancy in prices between the two looks to be far too big. The last game between these two was a 2-2 draw and it’s debateable whether Brazil would have found a winner against Croatia in their first game, while the lack of openly clear-cut chances created against Mexico was another worry. In two of their three games Brazil have notched while conceding and both teams to score looks another bet here. In the match odds, 4/5 is too big a price to resist on Chile with a one goal Asian handicap start – the bet wins unless Brazil win by two or more.
2.5 pts Chile +1 Asian H’cap (4/5 Paddy Power)
1 pt Both teams to score (4/5 general)