Brazil and Colombia are two sides that have progressed to the quarterfinals in very different ways, despite both winning their groups. Brazil topped group A, but showed their weaknesses against a resilient and talented Mexico side, and those same weaknesses came to the fore against Chile in a match where they were less than six inches away from losing in the final seconds of stoppage time before they went on to win in the penalty shootout lottery. They’ll take it, but in the end, Brazil have been less than impressive this summer, and many question if they’ll win it all.
Colombia, on the other hand, have not only been one of the most impressive attacking sides of the tournament, but one of the best sides on the whole. Apart from France and possibly the Netherlands, no side has entertained the masses and left us all with some jaw-dropping displays. Aside from Belgium, Colombia was certainly on the dark horse watch list, but on current form, they must be considered as one of the sides left that have a real chance of lifting their first World Cup in their history.
Despite the talent on display in both sides, this match cannot avoid being boiled down to one battle and one battle only; Neymar vs James Rodriguez. The Brazilian superstar has certainly taken this World Cup by storm, putting to bed any notion that he is overrated and unable to carry his country on the biggest stage. But the surprise (well, are we actually surprised?) of the tournament has been Rodriguez. Move over Falcao, because Colombia have a new darling of football. Only Lionel Messi has had a better tournament than the Monaco man, and that may be stretching it.
There will be other battles on the pitch today, there will be brilliant football played by brilliant players and there may even be another penalty lottery by the end of it all. But one thing is for certain, there will be two fantastic young players on display, both of whom are capable of the sublime and the inspired – one of them will lead his country into the semi-finals.
Projected Starting XI’s
Brazil (4-2-3-1): Cesar; Maxwell, Luiz, Silva, Alves; Paulinho, Fernandinho; Neymar, Oscar, Hulk; Fred
Colombia (4-2-2-2): Ospina; Armero, Yepes, Zapata, Zuniga; Aguilar, Sanchez; Rodriguez, Cuadrado; Gutierrez, Martinez
Key’s for Brazil:
- We have been saying it all tournament, and we will continue to do so; DO NOT allow space in behind the full-backs. At no time has it been more important than this match against Colombia. When you look past Rodriguez, you then have to consider Juan Cuadrado on the other flank, who leads the tournament in assists (5) by the way. With Marcelo’s fitness making him a match-time decision, Maxwell could well come in and be asked to do a job on Cuadrado despite not featuring all summer yet, while Alves will have to think defense first for once in his life and try to shackle Rodriguez.
- Brazil must find a way to get Hulk heavily involved from the first whistle. They’ve been overly reliant on Neymar and Oscar, but Hulk showed in many instances during the Chile match that he can pick up the sword when needed. Many fancy him as over-rated, but he’s a very talented player and a very good goalscorer. He does not have a goal or an assist yet this summer, and they’ll be no better time than now to rectify that fact.
Key’s for Colombia:
- Despite their brilliance this summer, Colombia does need to find ways to succeed in the final third that does not involve either Rodriguez or Cuadrado. That is not to say that they still should not be allowed to be their biggest influences, but the likes of Martinez, Gutierrez and Quintero (if he features) need to all be relied on as well. It will be tough for Colombia to not look to their new talisman in this match, but Brazil do boast some of the best defenders in the world at their positions, so this will be his toughest test yet – others must rise to become influential as well.
- They must control the midfield. Sanchez and Aguilar have been far more effective in the center of the park this summer than many Colombian supporters and pundits would have thought, but they’ll be coming up against the tandem of Paulinho and Fernandinho – it will be a pitched-battle if there ever was one. While Colombia do not need to kick-start their attacks from central areas, Brazil so often find Oscar in those areas and then either go forward through him or he finds Neymar. Colombia will do themselves a huge service by isolating Oscar and maybe even Neymar if they control the midfield.
- Rodriguez v Brazil – For me, he’s been the tournaments best player. He has been brilliant in each of his four appearances thus far, while scoring five goals in the process. While he is not the only offensive threat that Colombia can bring to bear on Brazil, Rodriguez is far and away the most important. If he is on his game, Brazil WILL crash out today.
- Neymar v Colombia – Just like Rodriguez, Neymar is the beating heart of his country. But Neymar has already been silenced on two occasions this summer, against Mexico and Chile. While Rodriguez has led from the front in each match, Neymar has shown his weaknesses – but where there is failure, there is improvement. While Rodriguez has taken much of the plaudits this summer, Neymar still has the ability to singlehandedly turn a match in Brazil’s favor.
- Hulk v Armero – As highlighted before, Hulk finally showed against Chile why Scolari continues to select him in his XI. His deceptive pace, trickery on the ball and vicious right foot make him a constant threat at a split second even if he is having a bad day at the office. Armero has done quite well this summer, but Hulk is another animal all to himself. Armero must be at his best if Colombia do not want to deal with other major threats apart from Neymar
Brazil were nearly ousted by Chile, a side that is tactically similar to Colombia, but with far less quality in key areas. This could well be the day that Brazil crashes out of the tournament, one where so many felt them the favorite. There record on home soil is as close to legendary as you’ll find, but like so many have said over the last few weeks, this Brazil side just lacks something extra. They labor to results, and while it is not necessarily a bad thing that Joga Bonito has not com to the fore nearly as much as previous tournaments, Colombia is arguably the most balanced side we have seen in this tournament. For me, 3-2 Colombia.