The 2014 World Cup round of 16 will start with a bang on Saturday, as hosts Brazil will take on South American rivals Chile with a spot in the quarter-finals on the line.
The Brazilians have a history of ending Chile's World Cup runs, and it's not surprising to hear voices in the Chilean camp call this match their dream tie. Chile have looked excellent during the tournament so far, and if ever they had the chance of finally overcoming Brazil, it would be now.
The hosts have yet to play their best football during their tournament, but they survived the group stages without a single loss. Chile will be their toughest challenge yet, so fans better strap themselves in for an explosive afternoon of World Cup football.
Date: Saturday, June 28
Time: 5 p.m. GMT/12 p.m. ET
Venue: Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte
Chile's Arturo Vidal was rested during his team's 2-0 loss to Netherlands, but he confirmed he would be good to go for Saturday's fixture against Brazil, per FIFA.com:
I'll play the round of 16 match on Saturday. I wouldn't miss it for the world. Brazil has often been Chile's nemesis but football changes, new generations come and new players appear.
Beating Brazil? That's our dream. Chile can create a surprise. We've beaten the world champions, so we can beat Brazil.
Brazil have indeed often been the team's nemesis. Per Footballzz, the Selecao have beaten Chile during the knockout stages on three occasions without suffering a single defeat. Historically speaking, Chile's World Cups ends when they run into Brazil.
Vidal and his teammates will be looking to change that, and thanks to an early qualification following wins against Australia and Spain, they were able to rest a couple of key players in their fixture against the Netherlands.
La Roja are relatively healthy, and at full strength, their high-octane style of play has created plenty of open looks for forward Alexis Sanchez. Mauricio Isla has steadily grown into the tournament, and against the Netherlands, he was able to open up acres of space with his marauding runs forward.
Brazil have looked out of sync during the group stages, often more resembling a collective of star players than an actual team. Those star players are some of the best in the world, however, and when called upon, they've made the difference.
Neymar is the focal point of the team's attacking movements, and with four goals in three matches, the youngster has delivered. Via Selecao Brasileira, the forward confirmed his team had great respect for Chile but that they were confident in their own abilities:
Neymar: "We are aware that Chile are a strong side but I can tell you that Brazil will enter the game with full confidence in our capacity."— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStats) June 24, 2014
They should be. With no major injury concerns and the home crowd firmly on their side, Brazil have the potential to wake up and turn into the football juggernaut they can be at any given moment.
The defence has been solid so far, and unlike most other teams, their back four has the athleticism to contain Chile's physical forwards and midfielders running at them.
This first round-of-16 fixture has the potential to be the very best of the bunch. Both teams are athletic, disciplined and offensive minded, and both have every reason to put their best foot forward.
Chile want to beat their old rivals more than anything—Brazil can't afford to fail in front of a home crowd desperate for a World Cup win. The pressure will be on the hosts, but the weight of history will also slow down the visitors.
For La Roja, the keyword will be discipline and patience. Brazil are deadly in space, but as we saw against Mexico, they can grow frustrated against athletic teams that keep the playing field as compact as possible.
Marcelo and Dani Alves like to move up the pitch as far as they can to contribute to the attack, and they leave acres of space for the likes of Sanchez and Isla to exploit. Overcommitting will lead to open looks for Brazil, however, and given his great form, giving Neymar chances on goal is a bad idea.
Similarly, Brazil can't allow Chile to turn this match into a battle of athleticism. The Selecao may have the edge in technical ability, but Chile boast incredible stamina. If the hosts allow Chile to keep every player moving for the full 90 minutes, La Roja's edge in athleticism could make the difference late.