Brazil’s heart still beat­ing

Escapes with nar­row­est of vic­to­ries over Chile

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - NHLDRAFT - By John Pye

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Ney­mar pointed his right in­dex fin­ger in the air and then formed the shape of a heart with his thumbs and fin­gers loftily raised above his head.

The 22-year- old striker had just slot­ted the win­ning penalty as Brazil beat Chile 3-2 in a dra­matic shootout af­ter the score was locked 1-1 at the end of ex­tra time, set­ting the World Cup hosts on course for a show­down against a James Ro­driguez-in­spired Colom­bia lineup that beat Uruguay 2- 0 later Satur­day to reach the quar­ter-fi­nals for the first time.

As Chile’s last penalty hit the post, it seemed as though the pop­u­la­tion of Brazil breathed a col­lec­tive sigh of re­lief that its beloved team was still in the World Cup.

While it was a heart-stopper for Brazil, which has spent bil­lions to host foot­ball’s mar­quee tour­na­ment, it was a heart­breaker for Chile, which cre­ated plenty of chances to force an up­set win — none closer than Mauri­cio Pinilla’s pow­er­ful shot into the cross­bar in the last mo­ments of ex­tra time.

David Luiz for Brazil and Alexis Sanchez for Chile scored first-half goals.

Busy roads Shops were closed and usu­ally busy roads were quiet as the coun­try of al­most 200 mil­lion urged its revered Sele­cao to vic­tory and ever closer to a sixth World Cup ti­tle — a tro­phy they des­per­ately want to col­lect on home soil.

“There are only three steps left and I still want to be back here to give an­other in­ter­view, with Brazil par­ty­ing,” Brazil goal­keeper Julio Ce­sar said af­ter his player- of-thematch per­for­mance, in­clud­ing two cru­cial saves at the start of the shootout that en­sured some re­demp­tion for a costly er­ror in South Africa four years ago.

First things first. Brazil next faces a Colom­bia team that has won all four of its matches so and is be­ing led by the in­creas­ingly con­fi­dent play­maker Ro­driguez, who scored once in each half against Uruguay — which was miss­ing its star striker Luis Suarez — to lift his tour­na­ment tally to five goals.

Suarez was ban­ished from the World Cup for bit­ing Italy de­fender Gior­gio Chiellini in the 1- 0 group­stage win that se­cured Uruguay’s place in the knockout rounds.

Diego For­lan started in place of Suarez — who claimed he ac­ci­dently made con­tact with Chiellini’s shoul­der and has ap­pealed against his ban of four months from foot­ball and nine in­ter­na­tional matches — but couldn’t re­pro­duce any­thing like the form that earned him the 2010 World Cup player of the tour­na­ment award.

Two early con­tenders for that ac­co­lade in 2014 un­der­lined their im­por­tance to their teams and set up an in­trigu­ing show­down at For­taleza on Fri­day. Baby-faced Ro­driguez has played with ma­tu­rity be­yond his 22 years to fill the void left by in­jured striker Radamel Fal­cao, not just cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties but also con­vert­ing them for Colom­bia.

He deftly con­trolled a cross with his chest and volleyed in from long range to score the opener and put the Uruguayans back on their heels, but said “I think now the tough­est is com­ing up.”

Ney­mar is try­ing to live up to the hype in Brazil, com­ing through in the big mo­ments. He scored four goals in the group stage and, al­though he wasn’t at his best against Chile, he found the net af­ter his stut­ter­ing run-up to the penalty spot dur­ing the shootout. His kick gave Brazil a 3-2 buf­fer, prov­ing de­ci­sive when Gon­zalo Jara’s fi­nal at­tempt for Chile hit the post, spark­ing rau­cous cel­e­bra­tions on the field and in the yel­low-washed crowd in Belo Hor­i­zonte.

It was just one of the mo­ments that Chile coach Jorge Sam­paoli didn’t see com­ing, and he later re­flected on Pinilla’s late strike that could have changed the com­plex­ion of the tour­na­ment.

“The near goal has been very hard for us to take,” he said. “If it had gone in, it would have been a his­toric mo­ment for Chile.”

The packed fan fests in Rio’s Copaca­bana beach and at Sao Paulo were packed with scream­ing, flag-wav­ing Brazil­ians. At the Mara­cana, Brazil fans al­ready in­side the sta­dium for the Colom­bia-Uruguay match erupted into cheers as they fol­lowed the win on TVs. The Mara­cana was also a sea of yel­low, but this time it was tens of thou­sands of Colom­bian fans.

“Con­grat­u­la­tions to all the Colom­bian people,” coach Jose Pek­er­man said. “The people in Colom­bia de­serve this.”

— The As­so­ci­ated Press

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