By Fred Kaweesi in Belo Horizonte
Brazil v Chile (7pm)
Colombia v Uruguay (11pm)
Brazil’s form has been remarkable in the World Cup so far.
The hosts edged Croatia 3-2 in their first Group A match and although couldn’t find a way past Mexico in a goalless draw, they rediscovered their stride in a 4-1 demolition of Cameroon in their final group game.
Now, if that isn’t championship-winning form, then what is it?
But then don’t tell that to Chile, who have exhibited a certain degree of arrogance in qualifying for the knockout stages and during their practice sessions in Belo Horizonte.
Chile claimed an illustrious win when they beat reigning champions Spain 2-0 en route to their own qualification behind the Netherlands in Group B.
(Left-right): Brazil's forwards Neymar and Fred and defender David Luiz take part in a training session at the Granja Comary training complex in Teresopolis on Thursday. PHOTO/AFP
On Friday, as Chile trained for today’s fixture, coach Jorge Sampaoli stood with hands in pockets –watching over his charges –as if admiring his flower garden back home.
Barcelona striker Alexis Sanchez, one of their star performers would occasionally juggle the ball; roll it over his head before playing it to a jolly teammate showing not the slightest nerves.
Ideally, the task at hand for Chile, who have only beaten Brazil once in their last 10 meetings, would be considered quite immense for any side.
Chile's forward Alexis Sanchez reacts during a group game against Netherlands. PHOTO/AFP
But don’t tell that to this Chilean side that is riding high on confidence.
“We have beaten the world champions, so we can beat Brazil,” Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal told the media Friday.
“Brazil has often been our nemesis but football changes, new generations come and new players appear,” he added.
Vidal, who turns out for Italian side Juventus, returns from a knee injury that kept him out of the match against the Dutch.
Chile captain and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo also stated that:
“We have the ambition, the capacity, we have the players and this is a tremendous opportunity for us,” said Bravo.
Chile (here in training) have only beaten Brazil once in their last 10 meetings. PHOTO/AFP
With their base in Belo Horizonte, Chile will find the city’s emblematic Mineirao stadium a familiar fortress. Chileans have flooded Brazil in their tens of thousands.
With both teams more comfortable in attack than defence, this explosive fixture that also pits two of Barcelona’s celebrated strikers in Sanchez and Neymar, promises to be a spectacle.
Neymar (pictured in below in training) has been everything to Brazil’s success in the tournament –his trickery against Cameroon quite a spectacle.
But it’s not lost on him that while many expect him to trouble the Chilean back-four, his own team’s defense will have to equally keep close watch over Sanchez.
“Alexis is a star,” he said. “I admire him a lot. He’s a great player and we need to be careful with him. We can’t leave him any space,” Neymar warned.
That said, neutrals remain convinced that Brazil will scrap through. The hosts will be encouraged by recent history. They easily knocked out Chile at the same stage in the last two World Cups that Chile featured in, 1998 and 2010.
With the exception of Vidal, who comes in for Jorge Valdivia, Sampaoli is expected to field the same starting XI that lost 2-0 to the Netherlands. Vidal will play in support of the attacking pair of Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas.
But although he trio will certainly trouble David Luiz and Thiago Silva, the hosts could prove resilient and adventurous if Fernandinho starts ahead of Paulinho, just behind Brazil’s three-man attack of Hulk, Fred and Neymar.