The FIFA World Cup has moved into the last sixteen after the most dramatic group stage games ever. The round of the last sixteen, as it is officially called, comprises teams that no soccer pundit would ever have been able to predict. On the 28th of June, the knockout round commences with the hosts, Brazil playing fellow South Americans, Chile who have shown that there are no small nations in soccer. This is one game which, despite what we or anyone say, is bound to go in any direction. We will however go on and say it. The reason is not to say we told you so but make the games more interesting.
Chile is a South American country which is facing the Pacific Ocean to the west and is bordered by Argentina and Bolivia to the east. Peru forms its northern border and has Santiago as its capital. The Chilean men’s national team is popularly known as the La Roja or The Red One and have, since the inception of the World Cup, appeared nine time at the finals. Their best ever position is a third in 1962 when they were the hosts. The Jorge Sampaoli coached side are currently ranked fourteenth, having dropped a single slot since the last ratings.
In the last ten encounters between the two nations since 2004, things have not looked well at all for the La Roja. Two of the encounters have ended in a draw and the other eight have gone Brazil’s way. The worst of these were a 5-0 and a 6-1 loss. In fact, in these ten most recent matches between the two nations, Brazil have scored 30 times while Chile have managed only 7 through the Brazilian goal. Of particular interest is the fact that at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the two teams also clashed on the 28th of June at the same stage with the yellow and blue champions coming out tops by 3-0. As we say, on paper, the game seems to be going Brazil’s way but then again the game is never played on paper.
Turning now to the current FIFA World Cup, the story seems quite different. Chile seem to have quickly made a name for themselves as giant killers. They first came to prominence when they easily dispatched of Australia 3-1 then followed it up with a 2-0 massacre of former World champions Spain before succumbing to eventual winners, Netherlands by the same margin. Despite the last defeat, the result is not a true reflection of the performance of the South Americans. While they came second in their group, Chile seem to have had less problems going through their opponents than did their prospective opponents. Brazil struggled to beat Croatia in the tournament opener and could only manage a draw against Mexico. It is in their last match that they showed emphatic dominance of the beautiful sport.
Going into the match on Saturday evening, Brazil are banking on the experience of Scolari, their coach as well as the brilliance of Neymar who, if the truth be told, has not disappointed. The disappointment has been Fredrico Chaves Guedes better known as just Fred. The towering centre forward who is usually a prolific goal banger seems to be running through a dry spell of late. If this continues into the match in question, Scolari will have only Neymar to rely on for goals. This will then leave his game plan open to interpretation by everybody, Sampaoli included.
However, this does not seem to be the problem with Chile. Their forwards have already shown that they are firing on all cylinders. Most Brazilian players admit that this Chilean side is tactically stronger than Brazil. Alexis Sanchez will be leading the attack while silent prayers for defender Gary Medel who suffered an ankle knock in training to recover in time for the match.