By Brian Homewood
June 28 (Reuters) - Brazil's quest for a sixth world title on home soil was almost ended by Chile's tireless and relentless pressing game in an utterly absorbing and tense World Cup secound-round match on Saturday.
Although Brazil won 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw, Chile, who dispatched title-holders Spain in the group stage, outplayed the World Cup hosts for periods of the match despite their much more limited resources.
Once again, they applied the aggressive pressing tactics, first employed under Marcelo Bielsa and continued by his successor and current coach Jorge Sampaoli, which have been a feature throughout the tournament and left the Brazilian midfield disorientated.
Brazil's players often found themselves harried by two or three Chilean opponents when they had the ball deep in their own half, forcing them to quickly hump the ball upfield.
Their best chance in the second half came when Cesar brilliantly saved Aranguiz's shot after Aranguiz had charged down an attempted Fernandinho pass, leading to a throw-in for his side.
There were plenty of other examples of Chile dispossessing Brazilian players in dangerous positions as the hosts struggled to cope with a tactic they appeared unfamiliar with.
"Chile are doing what Brazil did in the Confederations Cup, and are not doing now, which is mark the opponents deep in their own half and make it difficult for them to play the ball out," said former Brazil striker Walter Casagrande, commentating for Globo television.
Chile's only failing was that they did not make more of possession once they had won it, creating only a smattering of genuine chances, although they nearly snatched it when Mauricio Pinilla's shot smashed against the crossbar near the end of extra-time.
They also faced the permanent risk that Neymar or Hulk could sneak a goal for Brazil with one moment of inspiration.
Brazil's football only really flowed during the opening 20 minutes when Chile looked somewhat overawed and it seemed unimaginable that the five-times champions were going to suffer so much.
Neymar and Hulk ripped through the Chilean defence which had several let-offs before Brazil went ahead with David Luiz's goal in the 18th minute.
Brazil's suffering began once Sanchez equalised 14 minutes later and did not stop until Chile defender Gonzalo Jara, released by English second tier side Nottingham Forest just before the World Cup, struck Chile's last penalty against the post.
Oscar, deprived of service, was subdued while centre-forward Fred and his replacement Jo were both clumsy and ineffective.
The two sides showed why Latin American teams have flourished in the World Cup as they mixed drama, skill, commitment, tears, tactical nous and gamesmanship.
Neither team deserved to go out after 120 minutes of unremitting tension in the afternoon heat of the Mineirao stadium, which left the Brazilian winners speechless with emotion.
It is hard to imagine that any of the eliminated European teams could have produced such a spectacle, especially in such torrid conditions.
For all their failings, Brazil remain very dangerous, especially with home fans behind them. It takes only one moment of inspiration from Neymar to undo the opposition and it is unlikely he will be as subdued in the quarter-final as he was on Saturday.
Brazil have looked vulnerable since the start of the World Cup yet nobody has actually been capable of beating them.
No matter how unconvincing they look in midfield and defence, they could well muddle their way through to the final, although there is going to be a lot of suffering on the way.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
- Sports & Recreation