BELO HORIZONTE – Goalkeeper Julio Cesar, who plays for Toronto FC in Major League Soccer, became Brazil's national hero on Saturday as he saved the host nation from being knocked out of the World Cup.
After playing to a 1-1 tie following regulation and 30 minutes of extra time, Cesar made two critical saves as Brazil outlasted Chile 3-2 in a nail-biting penalty shootout at Estadio Mineirao on Saturday.
The goalkeeper stopped Chile's first two efforts, from Mauricio Pinilla and Alexis Sanchez, to put Brazil in control of the shootout. After Willian and Hulk both missed for the home team and Neymar had put Brazil back into the lead, Gonzalo Jara crashed Chile's final effort against the post to break his nation's hearts.
Brazil now goes through to meet the winner of Colombia and Uruguay in the quarterfinals but was mightily relieved to survive this afternoon of drama and tension, even after taking an early lead.
[Yahoo Sports Fan Shop: Show your support, buy World Cup gear]
The hosts took a 1-0 lead in the 19th minute when a corner kick flicked on by either David Luiz, Chile defender Jara, or a combination of both. There was some confusion over who actually scored the goal, but the 57,714 at Estadio Mineirao, mainly clad in yellow, didn't care.
Still, the question over this Brazil team has always been about its defending, and it was indeed a lapse at the back that allowed Chile back into the contest after 32 minutes.
Hulk tried to play a throw-in deep in Brazil's own half but under-hit it, allowing Eduardo Vargas to swoop in and pass to an unmarked Alexis Sanchez – who slotted the ball past Cesar for the equalizer.
As the second half progressed, Brazil could not break through and the tension rose. Claudio Bravo, the Chilean goalkeeper just signed by Barcelona, was outstanding, cutting off Hulk and Neymar to keep his team in it.
Extra time was a nervous affair, with Chile on the back foot for most of it but holding out defiantly. With just a minute left, Pinilla wriggled free and unleashed a right foot strike that crashed against the Brazil crossbar, saving the hosts from defeat by mere inches.
On such small measures the destiny of a World Cup game can sometimes change. It did here.