Key Battles That Will Shape Brazil's Clash with Chile
Chile were unfortunate to finish as Group B runners-up, but after losing 2-0 to the Netherlands, Jorge Sampaoli's side deservedly take on Brazil on Saturday in assuredly the most difficult round-of-16 matchup they could have faced.
Luiz Felipe Scolari's men showed their signs of shakiness in the group stage, though, and having opened this summer's World Cup against Croatia, the Selecao will once again be one of the first teams in action for the second phase.
South American titans will clash at the Estadio Mineirao, with those signs shown during the pool stage setting the stage for what should be a thrilling affair of the highest order, with some of its key battles discussed ahead.
Thiago Silva vs. Eduardo Vargas
Sampaoli's setup dictates that every member of the Chilean side be a malleable character, capable of fulfilling numerous tasks, and as such, their tactics don't utilise the talents of a set figure up top, per se.
However, if there's one figure whom Brazil's star centre-back Thiago Silva might expect to encounter more frequently than any other member of the opposition, it's Eduardo Vargas.
It's no secret that this Chilean side is far from the most physically daunting in the competition, and so Silva can expect to dictate a hefty majority of any aerial duels against the Valencia attacker, but Sampaoli's men don't utilise that strategy all too often in any case.
Silva's main concern is what those around Vargas will be plotting in order to pull him outside his comfort zone. A flooded Chilean attack can act in a magnet capacity when moving forward in numbers, distracting enough to allow Vargas to then peel in behind enemy lines as has been seen so often thus far.
Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos were exposed in this fashion when Spain met La Roja—the South American version—and Chile's wide assets prised open enough space for Vargas to expose the central channels.
That being said, Silva is as talented a centre-back as one is likely to find at the World Cup, and it will be of some intrigue to see if the Brazilian stalwart is so easily deceived in his duties.
Neymar vs. Mauricio Isla
Having netted four goals during the group stage, Neymar has gone some way in living up to the tremendous expectations put ahead of him coming into this summer's tournament.
However, Mexico's superb plot to neutralise specific weapons within the Selecao side worked to a tee, and Sampaoli is a similarly capable tactician to Miguel Herrera, making for another stern test of Scolari's ability.
The full-back-centric nature of Chile's defence means that the flanks will always be of pivotal significance in their fixtures, with right-side bastion Mauricio Isla performing his job with aplomb for the majority of his three outings thus far.
However, Arjen Robben showed that Sampaoli's defensive three, aided by their wing-back utilities on either side, can be exposed.
Neymar will be seeking to do the same on Saturday, hoping that those inside him can do enough to entertain Chile's central three defenders while he takes care of matters toward the flank.
Isla will also be hoping to pounce, though, with Neymar never offering the strongest of presences in tracking back, meaning the opportunity is there for Brazil's corners to be aimed at in kind.
Fernandinho vs. Arturo Vidal
After failing to feature in the first two matches of the group stage, Fernandinho got his first World Cup minutes earlier this week, scoring late in the 4-1 win over Cameroon after being introduced at halftime.
It's still far from assured, but Scolari may choose to hand Manchester City's anchor a starting place against Chile as a result of his impressive World Cup debut, where restraining the creative juices of this Chile attack will be essential.
And one of The Red One's major threats this weekend will be Juventus' Arturo Vidal, refreshed after sitting out the 2-0 defeat to the Netherlands and hoping to once again cause a stir against huge opposition.
Already regarded as one of, and arguably the best box-to-box talent in world football, it was encouraging to see Vidal add more offensive flair to his game this past season, where he scored 18 goals across all competitions for the Bianconeri.
In some ways, Fernandinho and Vidal are very alike, operating well off the ball, breaking up enemy movements before launching into probes of their own, most frequently releasing the more offensive assets surrounding them.
And each will be expected to account for their counterpart's influence in equal measure at the Estadio Mineirao, with these two poised to see out a very back-and-forth affair.
Fred vs. Gary Medel
One would have thought that Diego Costa's supreme height advantage over most of the Chilean side would have seen the Spanish striker dominate during their group-stage clash, but Sampaoli's men were far from being so predictable.
Just as the squad has been stubborn in terms of their refusal to budge against the world's giants so far this summer, Gary Medel was his typical, terrier-like self against Spain and ultimately played a central role in nullifying their attack.
Brazil's Fred earned a much-needed boost in morale against Cameroon, scoring in the 4-1 triumph to grab his first goal of the World Cup, but his performances still haven't been all too encouraging.
That being said, the Selecao will be a far more testing opponent for Medel in that they are far more open to playing the wings that Spain should have favoured on a more regular basis, but didn't.
Fred will find it difficult to thrive against Chile's back three and will most likely have to drop deep in order to retrieve ball on occasion, but it will be up to Medel and the likes of Gonzalo Jara to ensure those cutting in from out wide don't disrupt their fluid layout.
Marcelo vs. Alexis Sanchez
In a similar capacity to Vargas, Alexis Sanchez can too function as one of Chile's "strikers" on occasion, thriving on a system that gives him freedom in his duties.
However, in terms of where he's played the most football in this World Cup, the Barcelona man has most often been seen gliding down the right flank—as illustrated by Squawka—and it's there that he'll encounter El Clasico rival Marcelo on Saturday.
The Real Madrid defender is as favourable as any other full-back in the tournament when it comes to surging up his flank when in possession, and the quick transition of Chile's counter promises to hurt Brazil unless he's careful.
Granted, "careful" isn't necessarily a word one would too often use to describe Marcelo.
One extremely encouraging aspect of Sanchez's play is that his desire to get back and be of use to the national team whenever possible makes the job of Isla all the easier, and so alleviates some of the pressure Marcelo and Neymar are bound to assert.