How long can Brazil survive with this pressure?
Neither Brazil nor Chile could take solace in their extremely difficult round of 16 match on Saturday. As the Seleção inch closer to success, the expectations continue to rise for the World Cup hosts. On Saturday, the match with Chile represented the closest the Brazilians have come to succumbing to the intense pressure that comes with being the tournament's favorites.
Defender David Luiz appeared to score after 18 minutes to give the Brazilians a lead, but it was later revealed to be a likely own goal. Less than 15 minutes later, Alexis Sanchez leveled the match after the Brazilians went to sleep at the back. The struggling Brazil team could not find a way to score; neither could the Chileans, despite hitting the post as normal time ran out.
Both teams failed to score during extra time, forcing this high-caliber matchup to go to penalty kicks. Needing to score his penalty to keep the shootout going, Mauricio Pinilla stepped to the spot. His shot bounced off the inside of the post, but could not find the back of the net, giving Julio Cesar and the Brazilians the victory.
A bullet dodged, Brazil advance to face Colombia on Friday, but how much more pressure can the Brazilians handle? Every kick of the ball feels like it has unwanted consequences for Neymar and Co., and any success in this tournament is predicated on how they deal with that duress. Brazil haven't always looked entirely convincing so far, and with the weight of a nation on their shoulders, can they continue to move on in this tournament?
For City supporters, Fernandinho lasted 72 minutes in his first start of the World Cup before departing for Ramires. The midfielder, despite having expectations of being a more effective player than Paulinho, failed to make a true mark on the game. His 24 touches were second-to-last among Brazil's starters, and the City midfielder did not make the same impression on the game that I was expecting him to.
How high can James Rodriguez ascend?
Not many players have used this World Cup to the same brilliant effect that James Rodriguez has. James scored the opener in Colombia's 2-0 victory, setting a pretty high standard for World Cup knockout round goals.
The Monaco attacking midfielder went on to score a second in Colombia's comfortable victory over Uruguay. Rodriguez has scored five goals in his four matches, leading all players in Brazil. Despite this tournament's expectations of belonging to Neymar, James has scored in every game, lifting Colombia to a quarterfinal date with Brazil. The Colombian has made us forget, at least for the moment, about Falcao, which is an accomplishment in itself. At this point, it'd be hard to imagine a player who has meant more to his team than the 22-year-old Colombian.
Colombia have certainly asserted themselves on the global stage in this tournament, but with the hosts lurking, can the young James continue the ascent?
Without Suarez, Uruguay exit the tournament
For Uruguay, the loss against Colombia marked the second loss since beating Italy in the final group stage game. Luis Suarez's dismissal from the tournament for allegedly biting Giorgio Chiellini, while deserved, forced the Uruguayans into starting Diego Forlan against the Colombians. Uruguay could only put four of their 16 shots on target in the shutout loss. Without Suarez, Uruguay never quite looked as though they had the chance to really threaten the Colombians.
Unsurprisingly, Suarez has denied guilt in the incident, which has caused a four-month suspension from all football activities. Given a chance to admit a problem, Suarez instead essentially blamed Chiellini's shoulder for getting in the way of his teeth. As good as some of Uruguay's players may be, losing the silly biting storyline will be a positive for the tournament.
Mexico-Netherlands should be Sunday's better game
In the first of Sunday's round of 16 games, Mexico meet the Netherlands in Fortaleza. Guillermo Ochoa provided some great goalkeeping for Mexico in the group stage, and it will be much needed in their matchup with the high-scoring Netherlands. Only Costa Rica and Belgium have matched Mexico's defensive record of only allowing a single goal in the group stage. El Tri, however, only scored four goals in Group A, three of which came against Croatia.
As an added incentive to win in the round of 16, the winner of the game will proceed to face Costa Rica-Greece's winner in the quarterfinal. While victory in the quarterfinal will not be guaranteed, a round of 16 victory will go a long way to determine which teams will face in this side of the bracket's semifinal.
Costa Rica-Greece won't exactly thrill
However unexpected, Costa Rica and Greece will play each other in Sunday's second match in Recife. The round of 16 matchup is expected to excite any defensive aficionados, but the two teams might enjoy the freedom that comes with significantly less dynamic opposition. The two teams rank among the lower end of possession so far in the World Cup and essentially "parked the bus" for large portions of group play.
One role the game will serve, though, is to provide a good story for the quarterfinal. Whichever team wins on Sunday will find themselves an underdog to Mexico or the Dutch. Both have played that role in the group stage and had considerable success, with the Costa Ricans notably winning their group. One cannot be sure of how Sunday's match will play out, but both teams have had the defensive mentality that makes them difficult in knockout rounds.