RIO DE JANEIRO — The second round of the World Cup gets under way on Saturday with host nation Brazil facing Chile and Colombia taking on Uruguay in an all-South American race to reach the quarterfinals.
Brazil will be the first to play, in Belo Horizonte, and faces a Chile squad that has lived up to its pretournament expectations as a very good team that could cause a few surprises.
Colombia, which plays a Uruguay lineup that will be missing Luis Suarez, has also delivered so far on predictions of being a potential quarterfinalist in Brazil. Given Suarez’s absence, Colombia’s run should continue after Saturday’s game at Rio’s Maracana stadium.
The statistics point to one outcome at the Estadio Mineirao: Brazil has never lost to Chile on home soil and hasn’t been beaten by its South American rival in 14 years. On top of that, Neymar is already in scintillating form for Brazil at the tournament.
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He scored twice in a labored 3-1 victory over Croatia in the tournament opener and struck two more to give Brazil a decisive 2-1 lead in what became a comfortable 4-1 win over Cameroon in its last group game.
However, Brazil’s players — and coach — are understandably wary of a dangerous Chile side which has far less to lose than the hosts.
“It’s normal to feel uncomfortable and anxious ahead of this first elimination game,” Luiz Felipe Scolari said. “We are a bit more scared and nervous … not only because this one is in Brazil. We know we can’t make mistakes, we can’t lose.”
Chile’s 2-0 victory over 2010 World Cup champion Spain at the group stage underlined the potential of Jorge Sampaoli’s team, though a loss to the Netherlands by the same score maybe indicated its limits.
“We have a historic opportunity to eliminate the hosts,” Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo said. “It’s our longtime rival, one with a lot of titles. It’s up to us to do it.”
Things could hardly be going better for Colombia ahead of its match with Uruguay. Three straight victories and nine goals scored, playmaker James Rodriguez has been outstanding and now Uruguay’s best player, striker Luis Suarez, has been sent home.
Even allowing for the absence at this tournament of its star forward, the injured Radamel Falcao, Colombia will be the favorite to reach the quarterfinals.
For Uruguay, the loss of Suarez will be damaging — both technically and psychologically. His two goals in the 2-1 victory over England in Group D propelled Uruguay toward to the knockout stage and his presence in the squad as a proven match winner did much for its confidence.
• Giorgio Chiellini, the Italian defender whose shoulder became the latest temptation that Suarez and his teeth could not resist, says the terms of the ban are too stiff.
The Uruguayan must divorce himself from all things soccer, including 13 matches with his club team Liverpool in the Premier League, for four months.
On his website, Chiellini wrote: “At the moment, my only thoughts are with Luis and his family because they are faced with a very difficult period … I think what (FIFA officials) have proposed is very excessive.”
Chiellini might have felt otherwise immediately after Suarez went all Mike Tyson on him. Furious, he pulled his jersey off the affected shoulder and, pointing at it, screamed at the referee, who did not notice the indiscretion.
• U.S. midfielder Jermaine Jones has a broken nose after Thursday’s game against Germany, but remains available to play in the round of 16 against Belgium on Tuesday in Salvador.
U.S. Soccer Federation spokesman Michael Kammarman said Friday that Jones and fellow midfielder Alejandro Bedoya each were checked on the field for concussion symptoms during the 1-0 loss at Recife following their second-half collision, and three more times since then.
Forward Jozy Altidore’s status for the knockout stage remains unclear, though he is making positive progress since straining his left hamstring in the first half of the Americans’ opening win against Ghana on June 16. He ran at a good pace around the field without any signs of pain.
“We are very optimistic,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “Every day is a big step forward with Jozy.”
• The United States’ 1-0 loss to Germany was the second-highest rated men’s World Cup match on ESPN’s networks despite the early kickoff. The game received a 6.7 rating on ESPN and was seen by 10.77 million viewers, ESPN said Friday. Viewers peaked at 12.06 million during the final half-hour.