Brazil’s round-of-16 victory against Chile was not followed by the kind of praise and joy that one might expect. The Selecao came under fire in the wake of their penalty shootout success and foremost among those criticised was captain Thiago Silva.
It was perhaps fitting, then, that it was Brazil’s captain who scored the early goal that set the Selecao on the road to what was a hard-earned 2-1 win over a physical Colombia side.
If there were doubts over Thiago Silva’s mental fortitude, there are others within the side whose ability to handle pressure cannot be questioned. Neymar has consistently responded to challenges set, David Luiz—the scorer of a quite brilliant second goal—is the natural leader of the side, while Fernandinho too has led from the front.
When Brazil needed characters, the core of their side stood up. Scolari’s selection calls were justified.
For the first time in the tournament Brazil harnessed the atmosphere within the stadium. In their fifth game, the surge of post-anthem emotions finally translated into an early goal and a platform for victory. From that moment on, Colombia were chasing the game.
It was not an entirely convincing performance from Brazil, with the Selecao's performance levels dropping off substantially in the second half. They cannot be accused of lacking heart though.
As Colombia pushed forward in search of an equaliser following their goal from the penalty spot, Brazil stood firm to a man.
Any doubts as to how they would be affected by the absence of Luiz Gustavo were quickly answered by an inspired Fernandinho. For the entire 90 minutes he was a nuisance to Colombia star James Rodriguez—albeit that he could well have seen several yellow cards in the encounter.
While hesitant in the attacking third, Maicon also justified his inclusion with a solid defensive showing that has been missing in the right-back position this tournament. Luiz Felipe Scolari took the decision to bench Dani Alves and while Maicon did not offer the attacking dynamism of the Barcelona man, he provided a calming presence at the back—particularly toward the end of the game when Brazil's backs were to the wall.
Marcelo, on the other side, meanwhile, was predictably rugged—and happy to gallop up and down the flank.
Scolari's pre-match press conference on Thursday was a fractious affair, with the 2002 World Cup-winning coach responding curtly to any criticism of his side.
The players on the pitch are playing in the image of their manager. They are cautious, but they come out fighting when attacked. In tournament play, with the stakes so high, it is a powerful trait.
Brazil may not win the World Cup, and based on performance they have no right to expect to. Yet, if they do achieve against the odds it will be little surprise. Scolari has done so throughout his career, and this may very well be the closest he has come to a side that replicates his thinking on the pitch.
Scolari is not the same man as in 2002; the temper remains but he is more irritable, offended by the slightest criticism. His side reflect that change, but that fighting spirit is seeing them through when many others would have bowed under the pressure.
Brazil's attentions will now turn to Germany, who they will take on without Neymar.
The Barcelona superstar was taken to hospital after taking a blow to his back, and he is reportedly out for the rest of the World Cup:
Being without the suspended Thiago Silva and Neymar will leave Brazil with huge holes to fill. They could be holes Germany exploits.
That being said, Colombia were a formidable test, and Brazil will now feel that they can beat anybody, for momentum is on their side.