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June 30th, 2014 (VOA) Three out of seven Latin American teams are through to the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup.
On June 28 and 29, Brazil, Colombia, and Costa Rica sent home Chile, Uruguay, and Greece, respectively, in a series of nerve-wrecking matches that featured two ending in penalty shootouts. And in another intense match during the weekend, Mexico lost to the Netherlands 2-1 in the last five minutes of the game, after holding a 1-0 lead for much of the second half.
In the opening game of the round of 16, Brazil beat Chile in a penalty shootout, after regular and extra time ended with a 1-1 score. At Belo Horizonte’s Mineirão Stadium, the Chileans outplayed the Brazilians and almost eliminated the five-time world champions.
Chilean striker Mauricio Pinilla hit the bar shortly before the end of the match, silencing the 60,000 Brazilians in the stands. But Neymar reappeared during the penalty shootout to score the decisive goal.
Brazil’s hero, though, was goalie Julio Cesar, who had been dubbed the villain of the 2010 World Cup because of several mistakes made during that tournament’s quarterfinal loss to the Netherlands. This time around, he saved Chile’s first two penalty kicks and led Brazil to a win that coach Luiz Felipe Scolari described as “very emotional.”
“This was the fourth step,” Scolari said. “There are three more. Then we can reach heaven.”
At Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã Stadium, Colombia, led by James Rodríguez, easily defeated Uruguay 2-0. La Celeste barely saw the ball in the first half, with nearly two thirds of the possession in the hands of Los Cafeteros.
Uruguay lacked offensive power in large part due to the absence of Liverpool striker Luis Suárez, who was punished with a nine-game ban and a four-month suspension after biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini in the previous match.
The Colombians were a constant threat, thanks mainly to Rodríguez. The Monaco star scored twice in the game to become the World Cup’s top scorer with five goals. His first goal, a beautiful volley from outside the area, was widely hailed as the tournament’s finest shot.
It stunned the Uruguayans and paved the way for Colombia’s win, which put the team into the quarterfinals against none other than Brazil.
Los Cafeteros will play the Seleção on July 4 in Fortaleza. The match promises be one of the tournament’s best and Colombia’s biggest challenge yet.
After the game in Rio de Janeiro, Colombian fans walked through the streets, singing and taunting Brazilians. In a restaurant close to Maracanã, the Otáloras family, who live in Panama and have been following Los Cafeteros across Brazil, started singing the Colombian national anthem to the delight of some of the patrons.
Most Colombian fans now believe that their team can beat Brazil and win the World Cup for the first time.
On June 29 in Fortaleza, however, the mood turned from elation to heartbreak for thousands of Mexican fans.
El Tri played a great game against the Netherlands but was sent packing due to several errors in the last six minutes of the match.
Mexico dominated the match until striker Giovani dos Santos opened the scorecard in the 48th minute. From that moment on, the Mexicans slowly gave away ball possession and allowed Louis van Gaal’s squad to take the initiative.
The Dutch efforts paid off in the 88th minute when Wesley Sneijder sent a missile into the net. Six minutes later, Bayern Munich striker Arjen Robben was awarded a controversial penalty kick that Klaas-Jan Huntelaar converted.
Mexican coach Miguel Herrera, who was criticized in his country for taking a defensive stance in the last 20 minutes, lambasted the referee during the postgame news conference.
“Today it was the man with the whistle who eliminated us from the World Cup,” he said.
Later on June 29, Costa Rica defeated Greece in yet another penalty shootout. The Ticos and the Greeks were tied 1-1 at the end of regulation and two halves of extra time played at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife.
At first, the Costa Ricans failed to threaten the Greek goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis. In the first minutes of the second half, Bryan Ruiz finally managed to break the Greek defensive wall with a slow-motion strike that went by the Karnezis.
Greece, in a much better physical state than the Ticos, hit back in injury time. They kept up a suffocating attack throughout extra time, but Costa Rica’s goalkeeper Keylor Navas stopped every shot that came his way.
Navas also saved a penalty in the shootout phase, securing Costa Rica’s first appearance in a World Cup quarterfinals. Costa Rica will play the Netherlands at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador on July 5.
“We are making history,” Costa Rica’s coach Jorge Luis Pinto told reporters after the game. “It’s beautiful what we have done … We are ambitious and we want to go forward. We will meet an extraordinary team from Holland, but we’re happy to face them.”
World Cup Tuesday
Round of 16, match 55: Argentina vs. Switzerland
Where: Arena Corinthians, São Paulo
Key to the game: Argentina: Maintain an ordered defense and pray for an inspired Messi. Alejandro Sabella’s squad has a notoriously weak defense. The Argentines gave up two goals against Nigeria in their last group stage game, and their structure seems increasingly shaky in the back. They will need to fix that in order to stop Shaqiri and Haris Seferović’s attacks. Apart from that, they should try to use Ángel di María and Lavezzi’s attacks from the right and the left in order to open up spaces for Messi to exploit. Switzerland: Neutralize Messi and take advantage of Argentina’s slow defense. The Swiss must beware of Argentina’s tremendous offensive power. In that sense, they ought to prop their defense and counterattack.
Projected starting lineups: Argentina: Goalie: Sergio Romero. Defenders: Ezequiel Garay; Hugo Campagnaro; Pablo Zabaleta; Marcos Rojo. Midfielders: Javier Mascherano; Maxi Rodríguez; Augusto Fernández; Ángel di María. Forwards: Lionel Messi; Ezequiel Lavezzi. Switzerland: Goalie: Diego Benaglio. Defenders: Stephan Lichsteiner; Ricardo Rodríguez; Johan Djourou; Steve von Vergen. Midfielders: Gökhan Inler; Valon Behrami; Granit Xhaka; Xherdan Shaqiri. Forward: Haris Seferovic; Admir Mehmedi.
Round of 16, match 56: U.S.A. vs. Belgium
Where: Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador
Key to the game: U.S.A.: Keep a tight defense and improve their attack. “We need to find a way to bottle up their key players,” U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said. Indeed, keeping the likes of Hazard and Romelu Lukaku at bay will be an important factor in the game. The U.S. attack, however, is equally important. The U.S. is the 31st out of 32 teams in terms of total number of attacks created during the group stage, according to FIFA statistics. The U.S. ought to fix that in order to keep advancing in the tournament. Jozy Altidore’s comeback may help Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad with that problem. Belgium: Control U.S. counterattacks and weave offensive plays with Hazard. Belgium had a solid defense throughout the group stage – it conceded one goal in three games – but it has lost several of its main defenders to recent injuries. The Belgians must be careful with the speed of U.S. players and the potency of Altidore if he does recover in time for the game. Apart from that, they should try to move the ball around more than they’ve done in previous matches and take advantage of Hazard’s talent and Lukaku’s efficiency in front of the goal.
Projected starting lineups: U.S.A.: Goalie: Tim Howard. Defenders: Fabian Johnson; Geoff Cameron; Matt Besler; DaMarcus Beasley. Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman; Jermaine Jones; Alejandro Bedoya; Michael Bradley. Forwards: Clint Dempsey; Jozy Altidore. Belgium: Goalie: Thibaut Courtois. Defenders: Thomas Vermaelen; Vincent Kompany; Nicolas Lombaerts; Jan Vertonghen. Midfielders: Dries Mertens; Mousa Dembélé; Marouane Fellaini; Eden Hazard. Forward: Kevin Mirallas; Romelu Lukaku.