Brazil, it's okay to breathe again.
The host nation narrowly defeated rival Chile 3-2 on penalty kicks to move into the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup.
Brazil's David Luiz and Chile's Alexis Sanchez each scored in the first half, and 120 minutes of sometimes beautiful, always intense play wasn't enough to separate these talented teams. In the end, the game had to be decided from the penalty spot.
Although two of Brazil's penalty kicks failed to find the back of the net, the team's overall calmness and composure, from the beginning of extra time to Gonzalo Jara's fateful missed penalty, proved the hosts are capable of handling the enormous pressure that will follow them on their way to a World Cup title.
There was no waffling or second thoughts about who would take the penalties for Brazil. One by one, the Brazilian players marched into the penalty box, ready to take some of the biggest kicks of their lives.
Two players in particular, Neymar and goalkeeper Julio Cesar, did the most to prove this team has the leadership necessary to beat any team in this tournament.
After Luiz calmly buried the first penalty for Brazil, Cesar made an excellent save on Mauricio Pinilla's nervous kick. Willian then stubbed his shot, leaving Cesar in a tough spot.
Cesar stepped up again, just as he had all game long, to save Sanchez's off-center blast. His performance provoked this response from Grantland's Brian Phillips:
JULIO CESAR AND DANGER ARE TWO LIONS BORN ON THE SAME DAY IN THE SAME LITTER I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT I'M SAYING— Brian Phillips (@runofplay) June 28, 2014
Cesar was seen as a potential weak link before this tournament, having barely played for Queens Park Rangers in 2013 before a loan move to Toronto FC of Major League Soccer. Rather than look out of sorts in the tournament like Spain keeper Iker Casillas, who missed most of the 2013-14 season, Cesar has looked at his best at times.
Brazil's attacking style needs a goalkeeper who can cover up the occasional mistake, and Cesar proved he is that man.
With the penalties all tied at 2-2, Neymar proved he is the leader this team needs. He made sure he was in position for the fifth and ultimately decisive penalty kick. He wasn't afraid to put a stutter-step move on the Chilean keeper to bury his shot.
ESPN's Dermot Corrigan noted the immense pressure on Neymar and his wonderful response:
Pressure on Neymar - not just with pen, but in whole World Cup - just incredible. And he's taking it on. No wonder he got emotional there.— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) June 28, 2014
With Neymar willing to seek out the big moment, and players like Luiz, Marcelo and Cesar chipping in, Brazil has a core of players who proved they won't be overcome by the moment. And few moments are bigger than a do-or-die penalty shootout.
Brazil also earned plaudits for staying aggressive and not playing for penalty kicks in extra time. ESPN New York's Ethan Donaldson had harsh words for Chile's conservative play:
Chile got what it deserved in the end. You play for panalties and turn negative late, you get Julio Cesar-ed.— Ethan Donaldson (@L_E_D1980) June 28, 2014
While Chile was busy rocketing 30-plus yard shots halfway up the stands, Brazil's Marcelo was looking to combine with the likes of Ramires and newly-substituted Willian to break the deadlock. The effort provided Ramires a low, driving shot that he just barely missed before the end of extra time. It amounted to nothing, but it showed the team has an indefatigable spirit.
All of that dazzling play and mental fortitude led Brazil to this moment, courtesy of ESPNFC:
The final penalty. Just watch » http://t.co/wRGjQpe2lL— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 28, 2014
ESPN Stats & Info showed that Brazil is used to these big moments:
Brazil will now take on the winner of the Colombia-Uruguay match. Uruguay will be without striker Luis Suarez, who received a ban for his biting incident against Italy. Brazil should be able to outperform Uruguay if they move on thanks to the team's superior attacking options.
Which Brazil player was most important to the team's victory over Chile?
The truly dangerous opponent for Brazil is Colombia. James Rodriguez is in the form of his life, while teammates Juan Cuadrado and Teofil Gutierrez have proven to be excellent attacking options.
Colombia does have a rather slow defense, led by 38-year-old Mario Yepes. Brazil would be wise to utilize its speed in either match and put pressure on any team playing for a draw or low score line.
For Chile, it's just another four years of waiting.