Brazil entered the 2014 World Cup with high expectations and plenty of hype given its role as the host, but has looked vulnerable. Colombia received little attention at the outset before quickly emerging as a dangerous sleeper. Now the sides meet for a spot in the semifinals.
As things stand now, there are eight teams left to pursue one of the most coveted trophies in sports. It would only be a shock if one of those sides–Costa Rica–ended up winning the tournament. Otherwise, the championship is truly up for grabs among the other seven.
If Brazil is going to step up and deliver the title to the host nation, now's the time to find that next gear. Colombia is capable of pulling off the upset if the Selecao aren't at their best. It creates an intriguing atmosphere heading into Friday's clash.
Which team will advance to the World Cup semifinals?
Where: Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza, Brazil
When: Friday, July 4 at 4 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Keys to the Match
Brazil: Push the pace
One thing Brazil hasn't been able to do much throughout the tournament is impose its will on an opponent. The lack of control started in the group opener against Croatia, which saw the Selecao fall behind on an own goal early and get bailed out by a controversial penalty call late.
It's surprising because the side certainly doesn't lack dynamic talent, led by Neymar. They have played more like they are afraid to lose rather than trying to go out and command a match from start to finish. That game plan won't work against the best teams in the world.
Tommy Smyth of ESPN noted the lack of convincing play from the Brazilians:
Got Colombia winning and had correct score 2-0. Colombia look good .We al lost on Brazil but I think Brazil lost most they do not look good— Tommy Smyth (@TommySmythESPN) June 29, 2014
Alas, ESPN Stats and Info states they are still the clear favorites, according to the Soccer Power Index:
What Brazil must do in the quarterfinal is play with more aggression. The shape should look more like a 4-3-3 with Neymar and Hulk pushing forward aggressively as often as possible, even if it does open up a slightly larger risk of a counterattack.
The Selecao survived a tricky test against Chile despite often sluggish buildups. They aren't going to win the title that way. They need to play quicker and more efficiently, starting against Colombia, or the tournament will end in disappointment.
Colombia: Control the midfield
Every World Cup there are a couple players who break through on the worldwide stage. James Rodriguez is one of those rising stars this time around. His goal to open the scoring against Uruguay in the round of 16 was spectacular and he added another later on to seal it.
Rodriguez highlights a formidable midfield that's allowed Colombia to play like a serious contender to this point. Between the Monaco star and Juan Cuadrado, the Cafeteros have controlled the wings and Abel Aguilar has been a rock in the middle.
Sky Sports passed along comments from Brazil midfielder Fernandinho about the threat Rodriguez in particular poses:
I played against him in the Champions League. It was at the start of his time in Europe and he wasn't yet a first-choice for Porto. Already in that game he showed his technical quality with his left foot.
In this World Cup he is showing everyone that the money Monaco paid for him was well invested. The less space he gets against us, the better it will be for Brazil.
If Colombia is going to reach the semifinals, it must capitalize on that outstanding play in the midfield. As mentioned, Brazil has failed to show the initiative necessary to dictate matches. So the opportunity is there for the underdogs to control possession and play the match at their preferred speed.
The Selecao represent a far tougher test than Colombia has faced so far. How the Cafeteros respond early in the match will be crucial to their success. The best thing they can do is focus on getting as many touches for their midfielders as possible to establish possession and get Brazil on the defensive.