Brazil and Chile deliver a thriller
If the World Cup carries on like this, none of us are going to be in a fit state for anything come mid-July.
Neymar wasn't the only one who sank to his knees and sobbed in overwhelmed exhaustion on Saturday. Anyone who'd been there for the full three hours, who'd seen Chile take to the field like charging bulls, who saw Brazil bravely and shrewdly take the game to them regardless, who chewed their way down to their own knuckles at the end, would have felt the same.
Poor Chile. They couldn't have given anything more. They ran themselves into the ground until their bodies started to give out under the strain of it all.
Poor Mauricio Pinilla. He will stare at the ceiling as night becomes dawn, now and forever, wondering what might have been had his 119th-minute shot been aimed just an inch or two lower. Nothing in this life has ever been as inevitable as his subsequent penalty miss. There aren't enough cuddles in the world for that man.
But the day belonged to Brazil -- and to Neymar and Julio Cesar in particular. Cesar couldn't get a game for Queens Park Rangers while they toiled in the second flight last season, but memories of all that faded swiftly as he hurled himself across the goal to keep out the Chilean spot-kicks.
As for Neymar, it's hard to think of any young sportsman who has ever dealt this well with extreme pressure. For a 22-year-old to step up and slot home the fifth penalty as calmly as he did, when four of the preceding eight penalties had been missed, beggars belief. The man has liquid nitrogen in his veins.
He'll need it too, because Brazil still aren't playing at the level they were this past summer in the Confederations Cup. There is, in fact, no logical argument that supports the view that they can actually win this thing. In terms of performances, they'd barely make a list of the top five teams in the competition. And yet days like this make you wonder. After surviving Pinilla's effort and then escaping a penalty shootout, perhaps the best argument for Brazil's success is a sense of manifest destiny.
Brazil will be relieved to avoid Uruguay and the anxiety-inducing prospect of staring down their 1950 demons, but Colombia will be every bit as problematic as Chile.
Like Jorge Sampaoli's team, they have pace and energy in abundance, but they also have one James Rodriguez, who couldn't look more like a young Paul Scholes if he put on a short ginger wig and refused to speak to journalists.
His opening goal was just ridiculous, a turn-and-shoot wonder wallop so ambitious and outrageous that most people wouldn't even try it in training for fear of falling over. Around him, there is the pace and creativity of Juan Cuadrado, there are two bold full-backs in Juan Zuniga and Pablo Armero, and the rearguard is led by Mario Yepes, who looks like an unseated but defiant Rider of Rohan.
Brazil will be without the suspended Luiz Gustavo, their most reliable player behind Neymar, and might have to think the unthinkable and put the hitherto wretched Paulinho back in the team.
Thiago Silva and David Luiz still have a whiff of "The Odd Couple" about them, and you wouldn't back Hulk or Fred to put one past pint-size Mathieu Valbuena, let alone in-form David Ospina. Colombia would probably have preferred to avoid the hosts, but they certainly have no reason to be fearful.
"Good riddance," appears to be the general response to Uruguay's elimination, but this blog will miss them dearly. Eliminated with minimal fuss by Colombia, they did at least leave the world one more gift before they slipped into the night.
Luis Suarez's version of events, delivered before kickoff, was just wonderful. Essentially an extension of the "I didn't punch him -- he ran into my fist!" excuse of school bullies everywhere, it was one of the high points of this blog's summer.
"I hit my face against the player, leaving a small bruise on my cheek and a strong pain in my teeth," Suarez said, somehow expecting the world to ignore the video evidence to the contrary. Frankly, we're only disappointed he didn't go with, "I saw a wasp on Giorgio's shoulder, and I was trying to catch it in my mouth because that's what friends do."
But for all the accusations of heavy-handedness, bias and a vendetta from the English journalists who had only recently voted in overwhelming number to make Suarez their Player of the Year, the show had to go on without its star.
And boy, didn't we know it. Uruguay played with the mentality of a scolded, sulking team and fell back and packed the central areas before that goal of scarcely believable quality from James Rodriguez blew their doors off. Another in the second half -- a gorgeous team goal -- forced them to come out fighting, which to their credit, they did with great spirit and endeavour.
Unfortunately, no one will ever remember that bit of their World Cup. Twenty years from now, we'll still be laughing at Suarez's excuse.