Colombia won the South American scrap, but the gloss was taken off by Brazil winning the game of football, Paul Watson reports...
Colombia dug deep to outmuscle Brazil in the cauldron of the Estadio Castelao, but their celebrations were muted as their beaten-up opponents claimed a place in the semi-finals by dint of scoring more goals.
Unlike past Brazil sides composed of aesthetically pleasing but weedy creative types, this Selecao team had been spoiling for a fight during their progress to the quarter-final stage.
With the exception of featherweight flairster Neymar, Brazil’s burly, workmanlike side have left the watching world scratching their heads trying to remember why exactly they purchased Brazil shirts when they aren’t at all Brazilian and actually can barely name more than a handful of Brazilian players, places or things.
It was clear where each side’s principle weakness lay - Brazil’s in Neymar and his insistence on skilful dribbling and Colombia with James Rodriguez, who had brazenly announced his scoring prowess.
From the outset, Brazil made their intention to incapacitate Rodriguez clear while the Colombians looked for a chance to lure Neymar away from his bigger, stronger colleagues and give him a third-degree wedgie or the feared speed boogie.
The resulting fight was compelling viewing, marred only slightly by the presence of a ball, which ended up in the Colombian net twice but only once in Brazil’s, after being frustratedly hacked out of the way by players looking to land stiff kicks on opponents.
Eliciting a Pavlovian response to the ball, Rodriguez repeatedly put himself in harm’s way by attempting to gain control of the irrelevant sphere and on multiple occasions fell victim to Fernandinho, who will rue the fact his attacks only resulted in minor bruising, having been prevented by an eagle-eyed referee’s assistant from bringing a nunchuk onto the field.
The hosts frequently had the better of the exchanges and landed 31 fouls to Colombia’s 23, but their combinations lacked a final product and time and again a Brazilian player would send a Colombian to the ground but fail to follow up with a knee-drop or an armbar.
The crowd grew restless with Brazil holding a narrow points advantage and Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men were to pay the price for their lack of killer instinct in the final minutes of a bruising encounter when, in a dramatic twist, Colombia landed the knockout blow. Naively straying into plain sight with his guard down, Neymar was felled by a perfectly executed flying knee by Juan Zuniga. The Brazilians crowded round their fallen star, trying to encourage him to get up, but it was in vain: Neymar was out for the count.
A battered Rodriguez embraced Zuniga as the referee’s whistle sounded. Colombia had won the fight, even if Brazil will progress to the semi-finals to take on European heavyweights Germany.
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