The knockout stage of the World Cup begins on Saturday with hosts Brazil playing Chile, the South American rival they have dominated over the years. Brazil haven’t lost to Chile in more than a decade, and have never lost a head-to-head game on home soil. But for the first time Chile arrive to face their neighbor with plenty of confidence, thanks in part to a convincing campaign in Group B that included a victory over 2010 World Cup champions Spain.
The Chileans say there is no reason they can’t also surprise the hosts, and Brazilians admit they are wary of the threat. Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari warned about Chile’s potential more than six months ago, following the World Cup draw. Despite the possibility of the hosts facing Spain or the Netherlands, Brazil’s nemesis in the quarterfinals of the 2010 tournament, Scolari said at the time that his biggest concern was the Chilean squad, which he hoped “wouldn’t qualify” for the second round.
“When I talked about Chile then, people made fun of me, they said Chile wasn’t good enough,” Scolari said. “But I already knew the work of coach (Jorge) Sampaoli and their players. We already knew how they played.”
Nothing to lose
Brazil haven’t lost to Chile since a World Cup qualifier in 2000. Since then, they have won 10 of their 12 matches. The teams have met three times in World Cups, with Brazil winning 4-2 in the semifinals of the 1962 tournament in Chile, then 4-1 in the second round in 1998 and 3-0 at the same stage in 2010.
“We can’t take that into consideration,” Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo said. “A lot of people say that we don’t have anything to lose, but on the contrary, we have a historic opportunity to eliminate the hosts. It’s our longtime rival, one with a lot of titles. It’s up to us to do it.”
Brazil and Chile played twice in friendlies last year. Scolari’s team won 2-1 in November in Canada, and the teams drew 2-2 in April at the same Mineirao Stadium where Saturday’s match will be played. “This is one of Chile’s best teams in the last few years,” Brazil striker Fred said. “It’s a very fast and technical team, with players who have a lot of experience in international football.”
The Chilean squad has four players who know Brazilian football well — Eduardo Vargas played for Brazilian club Gremio until last year, while Jorge Valdivia is with Palmeiras, Charles Aranguiz with Internacional and Eugenio Mena with Santos.
“They have players with a lot of quality. It’s always difficult to play a team like that,” Brazil midfielder Luiz Gustavo said. “We don’t think about what happened in the past. We have to think about what’s in front of us now. Now it’s a different story, with new players. Anything is possible.”
Brazil have made it to the quarterfinals of the World Cup every time since 1994. Their last elimination in the second round was against Argentina in 1990. Chile have only once advanced past the second round, at home in 1962.
“Now we can’t make any more mistakes,” Scolari said. “In the group stage we could still slip here and there and still advance. Now we can’t. We have to have a very balanced team, we can’t make any mistakes, that’s what has to change beginning with this next game.”
Brazil have four players going into Saturday’s match with a yellow card, including striker Neymar, captain Thiago Silva and Gustavo. Another yellow against Chile will sideline them from the quarterfinals if Brazil advance.