Key Battles That Will Shape Brazil's Clash with Colombia
Colombia will take on Brazil on Friday evening with a place in the World Cup semi-final at stake.
Los Cafeteros come into the tie as the form side, but they will also be aware that history is not in their favour.
Colombia have won just five of 35 fixtures between the two sides, while it is 23 years since their last triumph. Brazil, on home soil, are formidable opponents.
To succeed, Colombia will need to win key individual battles right across the pitch in order to put themselves on the front foot.
The question is, then, upon which confrontations the clash will be determined?
Jackson Martinez vs. Fred
The battle of the strikers. Neither Jackson Martinez nor Fred has excelled at the competition thus far, but it is safe to say that the Colombian has comfortably outperformed his Brazilian rival.
As Fred showed last summer, though, his form is prone to sudden and dramatic changes. When he is confident, he is a terrific goalscorer, provided service is good.
Both players have some similarities in that their best work is done in and around the penalty area. Neither are outstanding when forced outside their comfort zones.
They will come up against experienced and wily defenders in Thiago Silva and Mario Yepes, as well as the more physical and impulsive David Luiz and Cristian Zapata.
The two defences have been reasonably strong thus far in Brazil, and it will be up to the two strikers to find a route to goal.
Pablo Armero vs. Dani Alves
Given both sides' tactical preferences, Brazil vs. Colombia is a clash that could very well be settled on the flanks in the match-ups between the two sets of wing-backs.
One such clash will see Napoli's Pablo Armero come up against Barcelona's Dani Alves in a clash of one of the tournament's outstanding full-backs against one woefully out of form.
Alves has struggled over the past three weeks, too often caught out of position or beaten in one-on-one situations. Against Armero, with his incredible stamina and speed, he has to be more aware.
Conversely, there should be space behind the Colombian to exploit if Brazil can counter quickly.
Camilo Zuniga vs. Marcelo
On the other flank, two more attacking full-backs will go head-to-head in the form of Camilo Zuniga and Marcelo.
Zuniga is a well-rounded full-back, possessing quality at both ends of the pitch. However, he is short of being an exceptional player.
Marcelo, though, has the potential to be a real match-winner for Brazil but is currently performing well below expected levels. Given his ability, though, his current malaise is unlikely to last long.
If the Real Madrid man can fire, he could play a major role in helping his country to success at the World Cup. It would be a big boost for Scolari's side if he could start with a strong showing against Colombia.
Carlos Sanchez vs. Fernandinho
With Brazil's key midfield enforcer Luiz Gustavo absent through suspension, the battle to dominate the centre of the park will likely be heavily influenced by the performances of Carlos Sanchez and Fernandinho.
The Manchester City man may not be a natural anchor but has played the role for Manchester City at club level with quite some success.
Sanchez, meanwhile, may not be a high-profile name—having spent several years with smaller clubs in France—but has long since been a key player for his country. At the competition thus far he has been excellent.
Both sides will hope to assert heavy influence in the midfield and force their opponents into mistakes. Whichever of the pair can come out the blocks quickest could set the tone for a strong showing for their side.
James Rodriguez vs. Neymar
Whether or not it is the battle that will settle the tie is open for debate, but it is certainly the contest that will attract the most attention.
James Rodriguez against Neymar: both players the same age and both among the early stars of World Cup 2014.
If either player can find their best form in the encounter, their side will have a great chance of achieving success. It is a relatively simple equation.
Thus far, James has perhaps been the better of the pair. Neymar, though, has raised his game every time the pressure has been raised on Brazil.
Their battle at opposite ends of the pitch will be fascinating to watch, with both set to be at the top of the world game for several years to come.
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