Brazil will face the Netherlands in the quarter finals after this routine win, but it will likely not be the classic contest the two nations’ pedigree would suggest. Once again this was a functional Brazilian performance but there was still so much to admire, even if very little of it lived up to the joga bonito marketing blurb.
There may not be the snappy samba passing we grew up associating with Brazil. The 1994 World Cup-winning side that Dunga captained were broadly similar; more of the team are there to defend than attack, and it works. However much we may wish to sneer at the mere concept of Brazil playing two defensive midfielders we cannot. Because it works.
Brazil keep it tight at the back when they can, are masters of gamesmanship when they cannot, and in Kaka and Robinho there is enough of the traditional fantasista to create opportunities for themselves or Luis Fabiano, a thoroughly modern striker.
Brazil just picked Chile off in the end but Marco Bielsa’s side were arguably the better team in the opening stages. Alexis Sanchez has been their player of the tournament and once again he was popping up all over the place. He should have done better when Chile broke in numbers, opting to shoot through a crowd of players with options either side.
Chile committed more fouls than any other team during the group stages, and Brazil sought to take advantage of it by falling over a lot. Howard Webb has had a good tournament so far and was having none of it when first Lucio, then Maicon, two of the most physically imposing players in a Brazilian team full of them, took wildly exaggerated tumbles.
Brazil made a breakthrough just after the half hour with a goal that sums up their current style of play. Maicon whipped in a corner and Juan rose heighest to thump a header over Claudio Bravo and in.
Within four minutes Luis Fabiano would prove, then disprove, that argument. First he made an enormous mess of an airborne backheel, the ball bouncing off his ankle. Seconds later he pounced on a through ball from Kaka, rounded the keeper and slotted home.
So ended a first half in which Brazil had simply been the better side and waited for the chance to prove it. Bielsa made two changes at half time, Gonzalez and Contreras making way for Tello and Valdivia. Once again Chile made the better start; once again Brazil sat and let it happen, then picked them off.
A wonderful surging run saw Ramirez run from the halfway line to the penalty area, and just as the last defender moved towards him he slipped the ball through to Robinho to curl in at the far post.
That rather killed off Chile’s fading hopes, and without the suspended Ponce, Estrada and Medel they had little chance of getting back into the game. Their best chance came 15 minutes from time, Suazo jinking inside and out to create a yard of space in the area, Julio Cesar parrying away at his near post with the ball headed for the top corner.
Brazil had enjoyed two routine wins over Chile in qualification and this was another. While Chile’s commitment to attacking football was a welcome relief in the at times over-cautious group stages, they were clearly out of their depth here and can have few complaints. Brazil’s biggest test is still to come, and we will find out on Friday how that compact, disciplined six-man defence deals with Arjen Robben.