The nerves are starting to show in Brazil. Scolari looks like he’s getting hot under the collar, Neymar’s fitness becomes national news and there’s the omnipresent threat of violence if things go horribly wrong for Pentacampeões against Colombia.
Having predicted that Chile would beat Brazil in the last 16 – actually, they very nearly did – we are going to have another bash at making bold statements. Colombia will beat Brazil tonight in Fortaleza.
Why? Because Colombia have looked very good throughout the competition, they have some sparkling talent, Brazil are nervous and, in many quarters, uninspiring. It will be tight, but James Rodriguez and his team-mates may inflict upon the host nation the sort of shock that has still been sending small tremors into the Brazilian psyche since 1950.
Brazil have not been as sterile as some of their teams, but they are, to quote Roger Daltrey, a “One Man Band” in many ways. If Neymar doesn’t play, Brazil have big problems.
You cannot deny that the atmosphere around Brazil’s games so far has been tremendous – the bizarre national anthem routine, the over-emotional players (get a grip, guys…never saw Gerson behave like this, did we?) and the near-evangelical post-match celebrations. It all points to Brazil weeping and hugging their way through to Rio for the final on July 13.
However, they are not the best team in the tournament. I would place Colombia, Argentina, France and the Netherlands ahead of them at the moment. And Rodriguez is poised to the [unlikely] star of the show. It will be tight and the Brazilian crowd may have to drag their team through what will be their biggest test so far – possibly bigger than Chile, who are probably still sitting at that bar in Santiago and saying, “We should have been a contender”.
Meanwhile, the quarter-finals kick off in the Marcana in an all-Europe tie: France v Germany. The French continue to delight but they may not have enough to beat a typical German side that knows how to play these tournaments. While we have been entertained by France, Germany have not played to the best of their ability, but still successfully negotiated each hurdle.
France have a good record against their neighbours, with 11 wins from 25 meetings to Germany’s eight. Of these 25, three have been competitive fixtures, and all in the World Cup. The most recent were the two semi-final meetings in 1982 and 1986. We won’t need too much reminding of the dreadful and cynical behaviour in 1982 of German goalkeeper Toni Schumacher when he jumped into Patrick Battiston and almost mortally injured the unfortunate Frenchman.
This game could be somewhat attritional, with an unsatisafactory ending – in other words, the Germans will win on penalties. You have been warned!
The competition itself continues to win plaudits, although the knock-out stage has been less liberal. The goals-per-game average is 2.75, which is the highest since 1970 (2.97). Crowds are averaging 51,989. Yellow cards are averaging 2.73 per game, the lowest since 1986 and there have been 10 red cards, averraging 0.18 per game, the lowest since 1982. It’s all pretty “feel good” at the moment….