Round of 16: This. Is. Brazil.
If there was a movie scene that sums up Brazil vs. Chile, it would be this seminal one in “300”, except an imperious and less ripped Julio Cesar going, “THIS IS MADNESS. THIS IS BRAZIL” instead of Gerard Butler.
And, in many ways, King Leonidas’s emphatic – and a tad over-zealous – declaration of war encapsulates the sheer intensity of this breathtaking game. This game could have been a tetchy, stop-start affair, with so much at stake and the teams evenly matched.
Chile came into the game in fine form, beating Spain and Australia convincingly with their exciting brand of high tempo football; Brazil did just enough to finish top of their group, but they have not been their imperious, dominating selves. Oh no, both sides did not play it safe. All you had to do was take a look at the Brazilians bellowing their national anthem.
The passion was fierce and the action equally so. This was 120 minutes of breathless, high-octane entertainment, which had everything you want from a football match: controversial refereeing decisions, full-blooded tackles, quick transitions, exciting runs, fantastic whipped deliveries, stout defending, excellent saves, terrible penalties, amazing penalties, schoolboy errors, passionate fans and awful facial hair (here’s looking at you, Fred). I am still reeling from the game, mind.
Most of all, this was a game that was played at a frenetic pace between two very evenly matched sides. It was a grand sight, like two boxers slugging it out, as momentum and possession swung back and forth, each side not letting the other settle down. It was visceral and exhilarating. Beauty in intensity rather than finesse.
Indeed, the statistics tell the story of a game in which both sides pressed and harried insatiably. Both forward lines hunted in packs when they lost the ball. The Chileans forced Brazil to record their second lowest passing accuracy (72.9%; 310/425 successful passes) in a World cup match since 1966. The Chileans fared slightly better (76.1%; 361/ 474 successful), but these statistics cannot tell you how well both sides battled and played themselves out of trouble at times.
And even though the number of fouls committed (28 Brazil; 23 Chile) hints at an aggressive game, it does not begin to fully describe the relentless nature of the contest. Aturo Vidal – a man described by Arsene Wenger as a “marathon athlete who plays football” – was unrelenting in trying to win the ball back, ruthlessly upending Neymar on the 25th minute, to the wild protests of the Brazilian team. That David Luiz and Luis Gustavo – the centrehalf and anchorman respectively – hunted Vidal down in the 38th minute when he was trying to clear his lines near the Chilean corner flag, seemingly to get him back for that foul on Neymar, evinces the mad, combative nature of the game.
Yet, this game amazingly did not boil over into a tempestuous affair. Seven yellow-cards may suggest otherwise, but things never got personal – Claudio Bravo and Jo shook hands when Jo carelessly planted his studs into Bravo’s chest when contesting for the ball, for example. The contest was intense but even-tempered between opponents who respect each other.
Quite naturally, then, brave men were needed and showed up for this battle. Gary Medel, in particular, was immense for Chile, even though he was carrying an injury to his left abductor, which had to be taped up repeatedly. He was the game’s top passer with 52/ 64 passes, and he made 12 clearances 3 interceptions and 2 blocks. Rather inexplicable, that he was part of a Cardiff side that finished bottom of the Barclays Premier League 2013-1014.
In comparison, Fernandinho – who finished top of the league with Manchester City – did his best impersonation of the man he replaced, Paulinho, completing a woeful 10/12 passes, six fouls and only three tackles during the 72 minutes that he was on the pitch. Granted that he pressed as a collective unit with Oscar, Neymar and Hulk – don’t mention Fred and Jo, who are still pretending to be professional football players – but his inability to dictate the tempo from the middle of the park allowed Chile to make more passes in the attacking third than Brazil (163 vs. 143). A more clinical side in Colombia will punish Brazil.
No worries, though, because Brazil had Thiago Silva. He was a colossus at the back, completing 31/ 38 passes, 11 clearances, 2 tackles and blocked 2 shots. The PSG centre-half somehow committed only one half and provided that wonderful flicked header for Luiz’s goal. Classy and resolute, Silva, along with Luiz, kept Alexis Sanchez and and Eduardo Vargas, in particular, quiet.
Although the match was not technically the most consummate game of the tournament – with both goals resulting from loose marking and school-boy errors – the game had so much energy, desire and commitment. Even the penalty shoot-out was thrilling, with the penalties vacillating between poorly taken shots straight at the keeper and unstoppable ones like the belter Charles Aránguiz unleashed.
Matching each other punch for punch, stride for stride, both teams were knackered and blooded. Chile may have lost but football won. Beauty takes on many forms, and Brazil and Chile have shown us that there can be beauty in ferocity. It was a pulsating game, possibly the best game in the tournament so far. This is Brazil 2014, and this is madness of the best kind. Long may this continue.