BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil – Tight and tense as the performance was, it was enough to keep Brazil’s national obsession of winning the World Cup on home soil from taking a desperately disappointing turn. And it wasn’t superstar Neymar playing the key role for Brazil this time.
It was goalkeeper Julio Cesar, the country’s scapegoat from the last World Cup, who made several crucial saves and got some help from the woodwork in a penalty-shootout victory over Chile.
After extra time ended with the score tied at 1, Brazil had a 3-2 edge in the penalty-shootout phase.
Brazil was inches away from an early exit when Chile forward Mauricio Pinilla hit the crossbar in the final moments of extra time.
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Then, on the final kick of the match and after two saves from Cesar in the shootout, Gonzalo Jara’s attempt hit the right post and the ball bounced away.
“I believe the Brazilian people just needed this,” said Cesar, who made a mistake four years ago in South Africa that led to a quarterfinal loss. “The players, everybody else, we needed this.”
The fans still have to wait to celebrate a title. There are three more matches to win before the home team can lay claim to a sixth World Cup title.
“Let’s see if we can make fewer mistakes in the next matches,” Brazil coach Felipe Scolari said. “Perhaps next time we won’t be as lucky.”
To be fair, it wasn’t merely luck that saw Brazil through to the quarterfinals at Mineirao Stadium, which was a sea of Brazilian yellow with islands of Chilean red.
Neymar, David Luiz and Marcelo scored in the shootout, and Cesar saved penalties from Pinilla and Alexis Sanchez before Jara hit the post.
The match over, some Brazilian players fell to the ground, exhausted and emotionally drained. Willian, who missed a penalty for Brazil, sobbed uncontrollably, as Fred helped him to his feet.
Many Chilean players stood still, staring into the ground.
“Do you think I can be satisfied with the result?” Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli said. “We’ve played a hard 120 minutes, even if everybody was against us in the stadium.”
Brazil, which extended its 39-year unbeaten streak in home competitive matches to 61, will face Colombia in the quarterfinal round.
Brazil dominated the first half against Chile and took the lead when Luiz scored after a corner kick. After Sanchez equalized for Chile, Brazil had several chances to regain the lead.
The hopes of a nation seemingly are planted on the back of each Brazilian player.
“I hope these are lessons being given to the whole population,” Scolari said. “If you make a promise, you must deliver. This is what the players are doing.”
RIO DE JANEIRO – With a spectacular swivel-and-strike move, James Rodriguez provided one of the highlights of the World Cup and gave Brazil reason to worry.
Rodriguez scored one of the best goals of the tournament and added a second to put Colombia into the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time with a 2-0 victory over Uruguay — setting up a meeting with the host nation.
Rodriguez gave his team the lead with a long-range volley as he turned in the 28th minute. He scored the second goal from close range shortly after the break as Colombia dominated a Uruguay side that missed banned striker Luis Suarez.
“I think now the toughest is coming up,” Rodriguez said. “I’m happy because we are making history, and as a young man I dreamed of being here. And, of course, we want to do even more.”
Rodriguez has a tournament-leading five goals and further enhanced his status as perhaps the World Cup’s biggest revelation.
Uruguay simply couldn’t cope without Suarez, who was banned for four months for biting an opponent in the group-stage victory against Italy that sent the team through to the next round.
Suarez also missed Uruguay’s first match of the tournament, a 3-1 loss to Costa Rica, before scoring both goals in a 2-1 victory over England.
“We all knew what happened, but we had to forget about it and think positive,” Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said. “Suarez is a great player, and I don’t need to say it. He is very important.
“But we knew he wasn’t going to play.”
Suarez, in a letter Wednesday, told FIFA’s disciplinary panel he did not deliberately bite Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini.
“In no way it happened how you have described, as a bite or intent to bite,” Suarez wrote.
Suarez also wrote FIFA, “After the impact … I lost my balance, making my body unstable and falling on top of my opponent. At that moment I hit my face against the player, leaving a small bruise on my cheek and a strong pain in my teeth.”