The knockout round of World Cup 2014 begins today with two all-South American matches. Thrilling Colombia take on Uruguay this afternoon, but first it’s the hosts Brazil against rising stars Chile in Belo Horizonte. Chile have met Brazil three times in World Cup play and been knocked out each time: twice at this very stage (South Africa 2010, France 1998) and once in the quarterfinal (Chile 1962).
What’s At Stake
This Brazilian team will be crucified if they lose this early, especially in what they may consider a surprisingly easy matchup. The Chileans are excellent, but Brazil will have expected to face one of the finalists from 2010, as both Spain and Holland participated in Chile’s Group B.
As I mentioned, Chile have a history of losing to Brazil in World Cups, and their pre-match mind games show they are ready to break their streak. Referee Howard Webb will have his hands full during the match (and his pockets full after the match, if Alexis Sanchez is to be believed – which he isn’t).
Brazil’s Luis Felipe Scolari and Chile’s Jorge Sampaio are two of the steadiest managers in the game. Even against strong opposition, which both face today, they’re unlikely to vary either their lineups or game plans. So we know what to expect. How does Chile’s 3-4-3 match up with Brazil’s 4-2-3-1?
Chile have so far varied only the identity of their center forward. They started their first game with Jorge Valdivia before switching to Arturo Vidal and finally to young Felipe Gutierrez. The positioning of each of the three has gotten progressively deeper, so that the Chilean shape was closer to 3-5-2 than 3-4-3 in the match against Holland.
Against Brazil today, whichever of the three plays will need to drop off to disrupt the passing of Brazil’s Paulinho (or Fernandinho) and Luis Gustavo. Chile’s attacks will have to go through wingers Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas.
As Zonal Marking points out, three-man defenses are an undefeated 8-0-2 in this Cup against four-man defenses, presumably because possession is the order of the day in today’s game and leaving behind a defender allows a manager to use an extra midfielder.
Will Brazil use three backs to counter Chile’s two wingers? Of course not. Brazil have the best centerback pairing in the world (pictured above), and arguably the best fullbacks in the world, too, in Barcelona’s Dani Alves and Real Madrid’s Marcelo. The seleção, playing at home, isn’t worried about losing the possession battle.
There are two key questions for Brazil: First, does the more skillful Fernandinho replace the sturdier Paulinho in the center of midfield? The calls for the switch have gotten louder after some shaky Paulinho performances of late, but Scolari doesn’t like to change his side. Second, does Neymar stay out wide, leaving Oscar in his favored playmaker role, or do the two switch places as they often have this month to allow Neymar more goal-scoring opportunities? Neymar’s influence has grown throughout this tournament. I think he’ll play a central role today, both literally and figuratively.
Players to Watch
Brazil: Neymar. Neymar Neymar Neymar. Brazil have looked a bit disjointed so far, but the young Barcelona player is capable of putting the team on his back. With nine goals in nine career World Cup matches, he already has Ronaldo and Miro Klöse’s record of fifteen in his sights.
Chile: Gary Medel. The anchor of Chile’s defense will be busy today. He uses every trick – legal or not – in his arsenal to deny attackers who are often far more gifted physically than he is.
Ian Darke and Steve McManaman. Back to the big guns for this marquee match. These two, who commentated the World Cup’s opening encounter between Brazil and Croatia, are an excellent team. McManaman’s singsong Scouse accent is often as entertaining as the match (and sometimes more entertaining). Darke, meanwhile, does Flabbergasted better than any other living human. Check him out in some off-the-pitch action here.
Match-specific Drinking Games
Marauder: Drink whenever Dani Alves is the most advanced Brazilian player on the pitch. How drunk? Steady buzz.
Olé!: Drink whenever the Brazilians complete fifteen passes in a row. Count out loud. How drunk? As dizzy as the Chilean midfield.
Stranded: Take a shot whenever Alexis Sanchez tries a dribble and loses the ball. How drunk? You’ll be drunk. Alexis is a great dribbler, but he’ll often be forced to go it alone today, and Marcelo’s tackling is excellent.
– Read my general World Cup watching guide.
– Check out Zonal Marking, my favorite tactics website.
– See a commentary schedule or a review of each commentator.
– See where I’m getting my national drink recommendations.
– Check out other match previews involving these teams: Holland vs. Chile, Spain vs. Chile, Brazil vs. Mexico, Chile vs. Australia, Brazil vs. Croatia
Picture credit: blog.foxsoccer.com