By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Goalkeeper Júlio César was the Seleção hero this afternoon as Brazil came through a penalty shoot-out against Chile to make it through to the World Cup quarter-finals at the Mineirão. A 1-1 draw after extra-time took the tie to spot kicks, with the hosts winning 3-2 in one of the most dramatic encounters in the tournament to date.
César saved efforts from Mauricio Pinilla and Aléxis Sanchez before Gonzalo Jara sent his shot against the post to see Brazil home. For Brazil David Luiz, Marcelo and Neymar converted, whilst Willian and Hulk missed from twelve yards.
Yet suffering was the order of the day inside the stadium. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari had claimed prior to the World Cup kick-off that he wanted to avoid Chile in the second round; on this evidence it is not hard to see why.
Daniel Alves again had a poor game for Brazil, struggling to keep up with the diagonal runs of Sanchez. His one meaningful contribution during the first half was a shot from range which Chile stopper Claudio Bravo tipped over the bar.
The game started well for the hosts, going ahead after eighteen minutes. Neymar whipped in a corner, Thiago Silva flicked the ball towards the far post and David Luiz forced it home to score his first goal for the national side.
Holding the advantage, Brazil sat back, waiting to hit on the counter attack. Fred, Neymar and Hulk all had chances but the second goal did not arrive. Instead, Chile found an equalizer on the half hour mark. Hulk underhit a pass to Marcelo and Eduardo Vargas directed the ball to Sanchez.
Alexis beat César with a cross shot to make it 1-1. Silence enveloped the Mineirão. Brazil started the second half at a quicker tempo, trying to re-seize the initiative. The side fought but the game became a midfield tussle, a scrappy affair with several fouls in the middle of the park.
Hulk thought he had put Brazil ahead again but English referee disallowed the goal for a deliberate handball. Replays showed he had made the right call. Scolari made changes, taking off Fernandinho and Fred for Ramires and Jô. The latter had an opening at goal but headed straight at Bravo.
As players tired in the 32 degree heat, Hulk continued to try to take the game to Chile, but he too was foiled by an excellent Bravo. During half-time of extra-time, Scolari used his last throw of the dice. He sent on Willian for Oscar, but it was Chile who came closer to winning the game, Pinilla sending a powerful shot crashing against the crossbar.
The game went to penalties and César, so often considered one of the weak links in the team, earned his redemption. Relief for 170 million Brazilians.
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