Brazil battle past Colombia
FORTALEZA, Brazil -- Three thoughts on Brazil's 2-1 win over Colombia in the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
1. A nation holds its breath
Neymar struggled to have his customary impact on the game, as he was held in check by a Colombia back line that was led superbly by Cristian Zapata and Mario Yepes, and his free kicks also seemed to lack their usual precision. But that will be the furthest thing from the mind of Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari as, in the 88th minute, Colombia defender Juan Zuniga attempted to jump for a header but only succeeded in kneeing Neymar square in the back.
The Brazilian No. 10 was in obvious pain and had to be stretchered off amid clear concern from his Brazil teammates. He was immediately substituted, with Henrique coming on in his place. The coming days will no doubt be filled with concern about Neymar's availability for the semifinal against Germany, who earlier in the day defeated France 1-0. Early reports indicated that Neymar was taken to a nearby hospital for examination.
Even under the best of circumstances, Neymar would be almost impossible to replace. But he has been perhaps the only Brazil attacker to play with any modicum of consistency. While the bigger concern right now is obviously his overall health, if Neymar is sidelined for the semifinal, it will be up to the likes of Oscar and Hulk to step up their respective games..
2. Thiago Silva delivers early but will be suspended for semi
In the run-up to the match, there had been much discussion about the perceived fragile emotions of the Brazilian players, with several players crying during the playing of the national anthem before games and also after the penalty shootout win over Chile. Thiago Silva in particular had come in for criticism when he declined to take a spot kick in the shootout.
Early on, Brazil could have no compunctions about Silva's leadership or playing level. His seventh-minute goal, when he evaded the attentions of Carlos Sanchez to knee the ball home at the far post, did much to settle the Selecao nerves. As Silva ran to the corner to celebrate, he pounded his chest in defiance over the criticism he had received in recent days.
Silva did his bit on the defensive end as well. On one of the few occasions that Colombian attacker James Rodriguez was afforded any space, the Cafeteros broke out on a four-versus-two situation with Rodriguez at the controls. The Colombian No. 10 played a ball to Juan Cuadrado, but Silva was there to cut out the return pass.
The early goal seemed to bring a surge of confidence to the whole team. Later in the half, David Luiz dispossessed his opponent, and embarked on a long run up field. Even when he was outmuscled by Zapata, he continued the charge and released a scream of passion as he won the ball back. This wasn't a team that was finding the moment too big for them.
The news wasn't all good for Silva, however. As Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina prepared to punt the ball up field in the 66th minute, Silva clattered into him and was duly booked by referee Carlos Velasco Carballo, who until then had kept his cards in his pocket for the most part. Now Silva will miss the semifinal.
3. Rodriguez perseveres, but comes up short
Aside from the aforementioned counter, Rodriguez found the going rough, literally. The Colombian did what he could to find space on the field, but rarely avoided the attentions of the Brazilian defenders. He was fouled four times in the first half alone, with Brazil's Fernandinho the primary culprit, committing three of the infractions. Through it all Carballo never saw fit to dish out a yellow card to the Brazilian midfielder. The lack of protection clearly began to get the better of Rodriguez -- along with partner in crime Cuadrado -- who cut a frustrated figure as he left the field at half-time.
Even Rodriguez's set pieces seemed to go awry. In the 25th minute, he took a quick free kick only to see his teammates stop playing, as Carballo wanted it retaken. Instead, Brazil stole the ball and embarked on a quick counter that was only just halted by a Zapata tackle.
The second half saw Rodriguez do what he could to orchestrate the attack, but the Brazil defence remained organised, cutting out his initial attempts to make penetrating passes.
Rodriguez's aggravation meter went to 11 in the 68th minute when he was booked for a foul on Hulk, one in which there appeared to be little contact. The playmaker could clearly be seen counting off the fouls he had suffered to Carballo. Rubbing salt in the wound, Luiz then appeared to make the game safe when he buried the ensuing free kick past Ospina from 35 yards, for one of the goals of the tournament.
But Rodriguez continued to make an immense effort and was rewarded in the 78th minute when his clever ball to substitute Carlos Bacca put his teammate clean through on goal only to be upended by Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar. Rodriguez took the responsibility himself and slotted the penalty coolly home to bring the Cafeteros within one and make himself only the fifth player in history to score in five consecutive World Cup games.
Alas, Colombia couldn't complete the comeback, and Rodriguez was in tears following the final whistle. The respect from Brazil was clear, however, as several players went up to console him. Despite a disappointing night, he is without question a player with the brightest of futures.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.