3 July 2014 15:56
Brazil’s next hurdle in their bid to win the FIFA World Cup on home soil could be their toughest yet against a James Rodriguez-led Colombia.
Friday’s quarter-final in Fortaleza pits the hosts, seeking a sixth World Cup title, against a Colombia side brimming with confidence after four straight wins at the tournament.
The outstanding football played at the showpiece has seen many already dub it as the greatest of all time but to say Brazil have greatly contributed to that would be extending the truth just a little.
Big wins over Croatia and Cameroon have failed to mask defensive frailties and an increasing reliance on talisman Neymar, who has scored half of their eight goals.
Goalkeeper Julio Cesar played his part in their penalty-shootout win over Chile in the last round but there is no doubt coach Luiz Felipe Scolari will be nervous about the prospect of facing Colombia.
Scolari called a meeting with a team psychologist earlier this week in a bid to combat nerves, and with the weight of a nation on their shoulders, the pressure will only build prior to kick-off.
Neymar is set to shrug off a knee complaint to feature and said there will be no emotional hangover from their thrilling win over Chile.
“I’m recovered (from the Chile game) and no one is emotionally troubled,” he said.
“Against Chile there was a lot of excitement and everyone has a different way of expressing it.
“We’re all ready to approach Colombia and hopefully move on to the semi-finals. Scolari has passed us the report on Colombia and we are ready.”
Brazil will be without suspended midfielder Luiz Gustavo and Scolari has hinted at a change in formation in his absence.
That could also combat the threat of Rodriguez, who has netted in all four of his outings so far and leads the tournament’s scoring charts with five to his name.
His goals have helped Colombia maintain a 100 per cent record, with a double in their 2-0 win over Uruguay in the last 16 highlighted by his outstanding first-half volley.
While Brazil have almost entirely relied on Neymar, Rodriguez’s support cast has also shone.
Jackson Martinez has chipped in with two goals while Juan Cuadrado’s four assists are bettered by nobody and a solid defence has conceded just twice.
Unbeaten in 11 matches, Colombia – who have never made it to the last eight of a World Cup – enter the game with high hopes.
And Cuadrado is hopeful of more Rodriguez magic.
“[James] is a great player, a phenomenon as they say here, who brings a lot to the national team,” the Fiorentina man is quoted by ESPN.
“He has shown his style really well. I believe that the support he has from all of his team-mates has helped him relax and given him the confidence he needs to show his best.
“He can do something big in any moment because we know he is a phenomenon.”
Although Colombia have won just two of 25 meetings against Brazil – the last coming in 1991 – if Rodriguez comes to play, they are every chance of adding to that record.