Brazil and Colombia enter the World Cup quarter-finals with totally different mindsets.
Brazil are surrounded by doubts after a more difficult start than expected to the tournament they are hosting. Colombia are upbeat after convincing performances and four straight wins.
While the hosts narrowly beat Chile in a penalty shootout to avoid elimination in the second round, the Colombians had a convincing 2-0 win over Uruguay to reach the quarter-finals for the first time.
The South American rivals are to play today in the northeastern city of Fortaleza, with Brazil hoping to keep alive their quest for a sixth World Cup title and Colombia aiming to extend their best ever run in soccer’s showcase event.
Despite their tradition and home-field advantage, Brazil are far from a big favorite. An uncomfortable opening win over Croatia, a draw with Mexico and a win over Cameroon in the group stage preceded the tight knockout match against Chile, from which Brazil advanced on penalties.
“It’s normal to have people demanding that we play better,” Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said. “But it’s also normal what we have been seeing in this World Cup so far. There were a lot of even matches. There is no difference between teams that have tradition and world titles and the rest of the teams. Matches are being decided on penalties, in the final minutes, on mistakes.”
Colombia have won all of their matches without any real difficulty, thanks in part to the tournament’s second-best attack with 11 goals, one less than the Netherlands. They also have a strong defense, with only two goals conceded. Brazil, meanwhile, have scored eight goals and conceded three.
“We’re very happy because we are making history,” said Colombia midfielder James Rodriguez, the tournament’s leading scorer with five goals. “We want to do even more because this is a team that really wants to win.”
Colombia have beaten Brazil only twice — the last time in the 1991 Copa America — but the teams have drawn the past four matches they played, including a 2012 friendly in New York.
Brazil have made the quarter-finals in six consecutive World Cups, but were eliminated at this stage in the past two.
The host nation’s hopes of going farther into the tournament this time remain on the shoulders of Neymar, who has scored four goals and has been decisive for his team. The striker injured his right knee against Chile, but team doctors said he will be fit to play at the Arena Castelao.
“Chile and Colombia have similar teams,” Neymar said. “It’s going to be another war. We will need to be on top of our game from the beginning to try to play better. Hopefully we won’t have to suffer so much.”
Colombia are relying mostly on Rodriguez, one of the stars of the World Cup so far.
“He has a lot of quality with his left foot, he’s showing why [AS] Monaco paid a lot of money to sign him,” Brazil defensive midfielder Fernandinho said. “We can’t give him any space, we are going to have to be very careful with him.”
Colombia coach Jose Pekerman has all of his players available for today’s match, but Scolari will be forced to make changes due to the suspension of defensive midfielder Luiz Gustavo. The Brazilian coach said he might go back to the formation that he used when his team won the 2002 title, with three central defenders.