After a phenomenal two weeks of World Cup group-stage action, the round of 16 gets underway in Brazil on Saturday, with the pick of the ties kicking things off.
Hosts Brazil looked a little unconvincing in Group A despite qualifying with minimal fuss in terms of points, and they’ll need to find a way to bring out their best when they take on the highly rated Chile in Belo Horizonte.
Chile, meanwhile, have arguably been one of the best sides in the tournament and are now just one more stellar performance away from reaching their first World Cup quarter-final since 1962.
Venue: Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte
Date: Saturday 28 June
Time: 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET
TV Info: BBC One (U.K.)/ABC (U.S.)
Chile Looking to Spoil Brazil’s Party
Brazil’s last two World Cup campaigns have ended in complete disaster—two exits at the quarter-final stage. While many nations would give anything to reach the last eight, when you’re Brazil, only lifting the trophy is good enough.
Being hosts of the tournament, that pressure is now astronomical, but even reaching the quarter-finals could be a step too far for the Brazilians this time around.
Not that the hosts are lacking in quality—far from it, in fact—but Chile’s brilliance as a unit could see the hosts take an early exit.
Negotiating Group B looked a daunting task for Chile before the big kick-off, but the way they played with such a lethal, counter-attacking style put them through without really breaking a sweat—leaving Rio Ferdinand to praise their performances:
It’s never easy crashing the hosts’ party and making it your own, but of all the teams that qualified to the last 16, Chile are up there with the best candidates to do just that.
That’s something that Brazil are very aware of, too, with defender David Luiz saying that the Chileans will be a tough opposition on Saturday and have a lethal weapon in Alexis Sanchez—per FIFA.com:
Chile are a team who deserve to be there. They have a philosophy of playing good football. They have lots of pace and excellent players. Alexis is a star. I admire him a lot. He is a great player and we will need to be careful with him. We can't leave him any space.
Leaving Sanchez space will come at Luiz’s peril, as the Barcelona man doesn’t need a second invitation when it comes to scoring a goal. Defenders just can’t seem to handle his pace and movement, and as WhoScored.com revealed, they’re not very subtle about that fact, either:
Having scored nine goals in his last 14 internationals, according to SoccerWay, Sanchez will be full of confidence heading into Saturday’s tie, where he’ll face off with his domestic colleague, Neymar.
Neymar has been one of the sensations of the World Cup so far, scoring four goals, but that’s hardly a surprise, is it?
His goalscoring record for both club and country is sensational, with his recent statistics for Brazil most impressive of all—per OptaJoe:
With two exceptional strikers on show at Estadio Mineirao, the first round-of-16 clash will likely be decided by which defensive line can produce the goods at the right time.
Chile have one of the most stubborn defences at the World Cup, even though they invite pressure upon them. With Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and Eduardo Vargas making up their front line, Chile can afford to sit back and wait for the perfect moment to spring a counter-attack.
Though Brazil have some fantastic players of their own, it’s hard to see them coping with such a strong counter-attacking outfit, and their journey may well be coming to a premature end.
While you never know with Brazil, if Chile can find the kind of form that saw them dispose of Spain 2-0, then you can expect the same kind of scoreline against Brazil.
Betting against the host nation of a World Cup is never advised, but when Chile are up against them it’s almost sensible. It’s bound to be a tight one in Belo Horizonte, but the Chileans just look like they have what it takes to reach the quarter-finals.
Prediction: Brazil 1-2 Chile