The Round of 16 kicks off Saturday with an all South American fixture as host nation Brazil and Chile will clash in Belo Horizonte.
Brazil topped Group A, scoring victories over Croatia and Cameroon with a draw against Mexico sandwiched between them. Chile won their first two fixtures over Australia and Spain, before falling to Holland in their final game of the group stage.
In their first two fixtures, Brazil used a 4-2-3-1 formation. Against Cameroon, they went with the pyramid 4-3-2-1 look and found success with it. Granted, it was against a weak Cameroon side but it could be a harbinger of the future for The Samba Boys.
As long as Neymar is scoring, it may not matter what look Brazil uses. The young superstar shares the lead with Lionel Messi and Thomas Muller with 4 goals in the competition. Spectacular and charismatic, Neymar is becoming of the stars of the 2014 World Cup, and he will be a player to watch.
Fred has been used as the lone striker up front, but the Fluminense forward has only managed one goal so far in the tournament, while missing countless scoring chances. He will need to be more efficient inside the 18-yard box, just to keep some attention away from Neymar.
The options at midfield are plentiful. Hulk missed the fixture against Mexico, due to a leg muscle injury, but he did return to the lineup in Brazil’s victory over Cameroon. If he’s fit, the Zenit St. Petersburg midfielder should start against Chile. Ramires, Fernandinho and Oscar are all options in the attacking midfield, with Oscar potentially dropping back a bit as a deep-lying winger. With his pace, Oscar could dominate the flank, although that will be difficult against Chile.
Luiz Gustavo has had a solid World Cup campaign as the holding midfielder, but he will be tested against a tricky Chilean side. Paulinho did start all three Group Stage matches, and should start against Chile.
The back four hasn’t been at its best so far in the World Cup. Left back Marcelo scored an own goal against Chile, but his game has progressed with every match. Dani Alves hasn’t had many menacing, overlapping runs along the right flank. Thiago Silva and David Luiz have had shaky moments in central defence. They will need to be better, but all four defenders are capable of raising their respective games.
Julio Cesar has had a decent tournament between the sticks. The Toronto FC keeper has made some timely saves to maintain Brazil’s edge.
In their last two games, Chile has used a 5-3-2 formation. Expect the same as Chile will either move their wing backs up to crowd the midfield, or let Brazil dominate possession in the centre of the pitch, but build up a wall in the final third.
Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas have formed an excellent partnership in attack for Chile. Each player has scored once, but both have caused headaches for opposing defenders.
Arturo Vidal is the talismanic figure in the midfield. The Juventus attacking midfielder is a brilliant passer, who can make darting runs into the penalty area. Brazil must be aware of where Vidal is on the pitch at all times. Vidal did miss the match against Holland due to injuries to his knee and achilles, but has stated he will be fit and ready for the Brazil game.
Marcelo Diaz has been partnered with both Jorge Valdivia and Charles Aranguiz in the centre of the pitch at this tournament. Valdivia is the more technically astute player while Aranguiz is the pragmatic, tactical force. Expect Aranguiz to start because of his tactical acumen that will be needed to offset the Brazil attack.
Mauricio Isla and Eugenio Mena will be asked to thwart the overlapping runs by the Brazilian flankers. Isla is the versatile right back while Mena is the stalwart at left back.
Francisco Silva, Gary Medel and Gonzalo Jara will be the trio of centre backs that will need to be at their best, to contain a swarming Brazilian attack. All three have had a solid tournament so far, but this will be their sternest challenge.
Claudio Bravo is the easy choice between the sticks. The Barcelona keeper has been excellent at the World Cup, especially in recording a clean sheet against Spain. Bravo will be under considerable pressure against Brazil and will need to rise to the challenge on more than one occasion.
History favours Brazil. Chile have never defeated Brazil on Brazilian soil and haven’t defeated Brazil in a match in over a decade. This includes Brazil’s demolition of Chile in the 1998 and 2010 World Cups, both happening in the Round of 16. However, this is a Chile side that won’t fear their longtime nemesis. Still, Chile can’t be reckless in attack. They must track back and play a pragmatic, patient game against a fearless Brazil side. This could be a cracker of a match which in the end, will be decided by skill. Brazil have a tad more skill and I expect Brazil to win 2-1, and advance to the quarterfinals.
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