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50-50 Challenge: Brazil vs. Chile

Jack Lang and Angus McNeice
June 27, 2014

Hosts Brazil finished top of Group A and now face an exciting Chile side for a place in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. Our ESPNFC bloggers Jack Lang (Brazil) and Angus McNeice (Chile) preview the round of 16 tie.

Form and fitness

Jack Lang: After flattering to deceive in their opening two games, Brazil ended Group A on a high note with a 4-1 win over Cameroon in Brasilia. The scoreline didn't quite tell the whole story, however; the Seleção were woeful in the first half and only some fireworks from Neymar kept them in the driving seat. Things improved markedly after the interval with the introduction of Fernandinho, whose passing ability leant the side some fluency at last. He can expect to start against Chile, with Paulinho dropping to the bench.

- Cox: What we learned in the group stage

Angus McNeice: Chile go into this on the back of a defeat to a cagey Netherlands side, against whom La Roja failed to create clear cut chances for the first time in the tournament.

That match tape, however, may not be of huge use to Luiz Felipe Scolari, who wouldn't dare set up deep against opposition at Brazil's World Cup.

Chile will also play with a weapon spared from the Dutch -- Arturo Vidal. The return of King Arthur is a huge source of encouragement for the underdog ahead of this immense test. The Juventus man underwent knee surgery in May and has not reached his full potential in this World Cup, despite professing full fitness. Chilean fans have waited many months for a convincing individual display from the man who led the final charge in qualifying -- they will hope the wait is over when Saturday comes.

World Cup history

JL: Brazil's World Cup record against Chile makes for pretty reading for the 2014 hosts: the Seleção have won all three meetings between the sides by an aggregate score of 11-3. All of those games -- in 1958, 1998 and 2010 -- came in the knockout stages.

Brazil's 3-0 victory in South Africa was their most convincing display of the tournament by a distance. Daniel Alves, Júlio César, Ramires and Maicon all featured in that match and will be hoping for a repeat on Saturday.

AM: Eight players in Chile's current squad played in the round of 16 defeat to Brazil in 2010. For La Roja the circumstances this year are worryingly similar -- Chile were one of the most exciting teams in South Africa, winning their opening two fixtures in style on their way to meeting Brazil in the first knockout round. No other nation has piled more World Cup misery on Chile than Brazil, a team responsible for three of their eight tournament exits.

Key battle

JL: Luiz Gustavo vs. Vidal. Chile do not lack for danger men but Vidal is perhaps the centrepiece of Jorge Sampaoli's impressive side. Combative and technically gifted, he has a knack of arriving in the box at just the right time -- as he has proved time and again for Juventus. Luiz Gustavo, the silent watchdog in front of Brazil's defence, will be the man charged with shutting him down. Much will turn on whether he is up to the job.

AM: The Dutch proved the key to blunting Chile's attack lies in smothering Alexis Sanchez deep in midfield. As soon as the Barcelona man is afforded momentum he can embarrass the classiest of centre-backs, and Louis van Gaal sacrificed Dirk Kuyt in man-marking Sanchez while Daley Blind remained receded to catch what fell through the cracks.

If Gustavo and most likely Fernandinho can cut Chile's greatest threat off at the source, the contest is half won. All Sanchez wants to do is test Thiago Silva and David Luiz in foot races and would equally relish the chance to draw those rash sliding challenges from Marcelo.

He needs several yards to get going, however, and with Chile he runs direct from deep in contrast to his wide role at Barcelona. If Brazil's midfielders are less attentive than the stifling Dutch, the Boy Wonder may orchestrate that unthinkable elimination.

Why does your side deserve to progress?

JL: Because World Cups are so much more exciting when the host nation goes far. Think of France 1998, possibly the best tournament in recent memory. Or South Korea in 2002, progressing to the semifinals against the odds. Simply put, the more widespread the local interest, the more life there seems to be in the competition. Plus, the expectation among Brazilians is such that elimination now could ruin the party for everyone else.

AM: Pelé, Maradona, total football and tiki-taka -- World Cups are defined by individuals and football philosophies. Several men have exhibited the talent to be singled out as championship players in this tournament, though the dominant teams have fallen short of providing clear-cut identities.

Chile's signature system -- unrelenting pressure with wingbacks and attackers matching opposition defenders in numbers -- may be as flawed as it can be devastating, yet the team has stuck with it.

La Roja's way may be too reckless and raw to cause a sea-change in the sport but this team's innovative approach lit up the group stages and a quarterfinal berth would be no injustice.

Prediction

JL: Brazil 2-1 Chile, possibly after extra time. Chile have the tools to trouble Brazil, as Luiz Felipe Scolari admitted after the Cameroon game. "I know how good they are," said the Seleção coach. "If I could, I would choose another opponent. South American sides are always tough." Expect a tense game, with Brazil doing just enough to progress.

AM: Chile win 2-1 and Brazil relive the nightmare of 1950. Neymar's shoulders will prove too narrow to bear the weight of a nation and the pressure on Scolari to play "o jogo bonito" will open space at the back in which Chile will hurt the host.

© Jack Lang and Angus McNeice
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