Belo Horizonte: World Cup favourites Brazil have rediscovered their swagger and boast a superb past record against Chile but go into Saturday’s do-or-die game knowing their rivals have enough attacking prowess to wreck the hosts’ party.
Seeking a sixth World Cup on home soil, Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men hit their stride in a 4-1 demolition of Cameroon that won them Group A and showed striker Neymar at his very best with two great goals and crowd-pleasing trickery on the ball.
Now facing Chile in the first game of the tournament’s knockout round, Brazil will be encouraged by recent history. They easily knocked out Chile at the same stage in the last two World Cups “La Roja” (The Red) featured in, 1998 and 2010.
Brazil have in fact won nine of their last 10 meetings.
Yet this fast and attack-minded Chile side could be the best version yet, claiming one illustrious scalp already when they beat reigning champions Spain 2-0 en route to their own qualification behind the Netherlands in Group B.
The Brazil of their opening two group games, a win but an unconvincing one against Croatia and a draw against Mexico, have not struck fear into the Chileans.
“Brazil has often been Chile’s nemesis but football changes, new generations come and new players appear,” said midfielder Arturo Vidal, who returns from a knee injury that kept him out of the match against the Dutch. “We’ve beaten Spain, so we can beat Brazil.”
In advance of the game, Neymar has warned his defence to keep tricky Barcelona teammate Sanchez in their pockets. “Beware of Alexis. He is a star,” he said. “I admire him a lot. He’s a great player and we need to be careful. We can’t leave him any space.”
Soft-spoken defensive midfielder Luiz Gustavo said he is fine with the fact that he hardly gets much adulation. “It’s natural,” Gustavo said. “I actually think that I need this privacy. I like to live my life this way. I’ll leave the rest to the more popular players. I don’t see any problem with that.”