By DAN KARELL
The World Cup Round of 16 got off to a thrilling and dramatic start on Saturday.
Following 120 minutes of end-to-end action with the score tied at 1-1, the outcome of Brazil’s match against Chile was decided in a penalty kick shootout. Toronto FC goalkeeper Julio Cesar played the hero, making two saves as Brazil won the shootout, 3-2. Star forward Neymar scored the deciding goal in the shootout while Chilean defender Gonzalo Jara’s spot kick careened off the inside of the post and out, ending Chile’s magical World Cup campaign all too soon.
It was a roller-coaster ride of emotions all afternoon at the Estádio Mineirão in Belo Horizonte, starting in the 18th minute when Brazil took the lead. Coming into the match, Brazil knew it had an advantage over Chile on set pieces and any kind of ball played in the air, and the Selecao took advantage of the short height of the Chilean defense.
Neymar curled in a corner kick that was flicked on by Brazilian defender Thiago Silva towards the far post. Both Brazil’s David Luiz and Chile’s Jara attempted to get on the end of the flick, which ended up in the net. It’s unclear who got the final touch on the shot but Luiz was credited with it and he certainly claimed it in the celebrations with his teammates.
The goal shocked Chile a bit but just as they made their way back into the game, Brazilian forward Hulk presented the Chileans with a gift. Off a throw-in deep in Brazil’s defensive third, Hulk took a poor touch pass back to Marcelo and the ball was stolen away by Chile forward Eduardo Vargas. Vargas played a first-time pass into the box to Alexis Sanchez, who took one touch to control and then slotted a shot home past Cesar to tie the score.
Following the frenetic first half, the game became much more sloppy, with both teams failing to establish a real rhythm in the second half. However, Brazil did have chances and forced Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo into some terrific saves, including one off a Neymar header and another from a Hulk shot.
Hulk thought he had made up for his earlier mistake when he chested down a ball and dinked a shot with the outside of his left foot into the far corner, but the goal was called back after referee Howard Webb ruled that Hulk had used his arm to control the ball. Hulk was shown a yellow card on the play, in the 55th minute.
The Chileans managed to keep their high-energy and pressing style through most of the match but began to sit back and defend more in extra time, with all the pressure on Brazil to score. While Hulk and substitute Jo had a couple of chances, Chile actually came the closest in the second half of extra time.
Chile substitute Mauricio Pinilla took a through ball from Sanchez at the top of the box and fired a shot towards goal that beat Cesar but cannoned off the crossbar, cruelly denying Chile a historic winner in the 120th minute.
The match went into the penalty shootout, where both teams struggled, whether due to the pressure or utter exhaustion.
Hulk stepped up first and slotted home to give Brazil a lead before Pinilla’s spot kick was saved by Cesar. Next up was Willian for Brazil but he put his shot wide. Cesar picked up Willian however when he saved the next penalty kick from Sanchez, and Marcelo powered home to make it 2-0 for Brazil.
The hosts gave up the lead though when Charles Aranguiz and Marcelo Diaz each scored terrific penalty kicks and Hulk had his spot kick saved, making it 2-2. With the pressure of an entire nation on him, Neymar stepped up for Brazil’s fifth penalty kick and coolly forced Bravo the wrong way to score.
Up stepped Jara to keep Chile alive but his penalty kick hit the right post and Brazil live to see another day.