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Jul 1, 2014

Brazil vs. Colombia: 50-50 preview

BrazilBrazil
ColombiaColombia
2
1
ESPN3, ESPN FT
Match 57
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Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari says the pressure from the press is normal and says this year's tournament is much more open than those in the past. Scolari insists the bad performances are behind Brazil.

Hosts Brazil edged past Chile on penalties to make the last eight while James Rodriguez inspired Colombia against Uruguay -- Jack Lang (Brazil) and Carl Worswick (Colombia) preview this quarterfinal.

Sum up your tournament so far

Jack Lang: On a pragmatic level, Brazil are on course to meet expectations: they are unbeaten and have negotiated a path to the final eight of the competition. But performances to date have left a great deal to be desired. Sluggish against Croatia and Mexico and then downright fraught in the round-of-16 game against Chile, Luiz Felipe Scolari's charges have not been able to produce the kind of displays that took them to the Confederations Cup title last year. An improvement is required, and fast.

Carl Worswick: Nobody expected this. Four straight wins, 11 goals scored and James Rodriguez as the tournament's best player and top goal scorer have ensured a dream return to the World Cup for Colombia after 16 years away. Of the eight countries in the hat for the quarterfinals, perhaps only Los Cafeteros have sailed through all their games without major problems. Therefore, it's no wonder that many now consider them genuine World Cup contenders. Coach Jose Pekerman has long sought to keep his players' feet firmly on the ground, however, and Colombia's relatively easy run so far has raised questions on how they would fare against a top side. Against Brazil we'll find out, but there's no doubt that the team's impressive performances have the team's confidence and morale riding high.

WC history between the two countries 

JL: The two sides have never met at a World Cup. They have, however, played six times in qualifying matches for the competition since the turn of the century. The results of those games don't bode too well for a thriller in Fortaleza: Four of the matches finished goalless, with Brazil sneaking narrow wins in the other two.

CW: The teams have never met at a World Cup, but they know each other well from the South American qualifiers. Normally, Colombia open their qualifying campaign against Brazil, a fixture many Colombians have blamed for the country's long absence from the World Cup. Three of the past four qualifiers played, however, have ended goalless, while the teams also drew 1-1 in a friendly in November 2012. That game is remembered for Neymar's bizarre penalty miss. But perhaps for Colombia, playing Brazil stirs up memories of one of their darkest days in recent history, a 9-0 mauling in an under-23 match in 2000 that is seen as emblematic of the country's success-starved period.

What are your expectations for the rest of the tournament?

JL: Expectation levels were sky high coming into the tournament, and understandably so: Scolari appeared to have found a formula that worked; Neymar was firing on all cylinders; the squad was united and confident. The mood has changed in the past fortnight, however, with many now wondering whether this side is good enough to take the title. The overdependence on Neymar is such that one poor performance from him could spell the end of the hosts' campaign. There are nervy times ahead.

CW: Colombia have already achieved their goal of reaching the quarterfinals for the first time. Silently, of course, there are those hoping the team can advance further, but if Colombia were to crash out against Brazil, they would go out with their heads held high. Perhaps for Pekerman -- who still has never lost a World Cup game in 90 minutes -- there will be extra motivation to reach the semifinals and beat his quarterfinal record, achieved with Argentina eight years ago. But for the media and fans, this tournament has already exceeded expectations. With the pressure off and players still looking fresh and confident, Colombia will go into the game reasonably relaxed.

James Rodriguez has exploded with five goals in four matches for Colombia.
James Rodriguez has exploded with five goals in four matches for Colombia.

Key Battle

JL: James Rodriguez vs Fernandinho. Colombia's playmaker has been in spellbinding form thus far, setting the tone for his side with a series of superb performances. With Luiz Gustavo suspended, Fernandinho is the man most likely to be charged with stopping Rodriguez. The Manchester City midfielder leapt ahead of Paulinho in Scolari's thoughts after a fine cameo against Cameroon, but was less impressive in the Chile game. Much will turn on whether he can shackle the Monaco star.

CW: Down the wings. When the two teams met in the United States for a friendly 19 months ago, Juan Guillermo Cuadrado opened up the scoring from the right wing before Neymar cut inside from the left and fired past David Ospina for the equaliser. Even the penalty was the result of a hasty challenge from left back Pablo Armero, who had been caught out of position. That was in 2012, but even now I believe that's where the danger will come from. Marcelo Vieira and Dani Alves are not the most convincing at the back while for Colombia, Armero and Juan Camilo Zuniga normally push very high to support attacks.

Prediction

JL: Brazil 1, Colombia 1. I see this being another tense, emotionally draining game for Brazil. Colombia have the quality to force extra time and could very easily sneak in on penalties.

CW: Colombia 1, Brazil 1. Don't ask me to pick a penalty winner, but I suspect Brazil will just about squeeze through in a similar vein to how they edged Chile in the previous round. Brazil will hope to deflate that terrifyingly obstructive pressure with an early goal.

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