It was dramatic enough to suggest that the World Cup 2014 quartefinal line-up was just a twitch here and a move there from being: Chile vs Colombia, Nigeria vs Algeria, Mexico vs Greece and Switzerland vs USA.
Rather thankfully, the showpiece teams prevailed, sometimes by the skin of their collective teeth. We take a look at how those skins were peeled.
Brazil: On his upper arm, supersub Mauricio Pinilla has a tattoo to prove just how close Chile were to proceeding to the quarterfinals at hosts Brazil’s expense. In the 119th minute of the game, the final few dregs of extra time, Pinilla’s long-range attempt crunched against Brazil ‘keeper Julio Cesar’s crossbar. Had that sailed an inch lower, there would have been no penalties and surely, no Selecao. It didn’t, and Cesar lived to make two massive saves in the shoot-
For the longest of spells in the Chile match, Brazil were second best. Dani Alves didn’t defend, Fred didn’t attack and Hulk didn’t do anything, thus exposing their heavy reliance on Neymar Jr — a boy who has scored half of Brazil’s eight goals in this campaign. Still, through sheer goodwill and sometimes a whole lot of luck, their hopes of winning a World Cup at home are alive.
Colombia: The only team to win all four matches without hiccups and make it thus far. Scissoring oppositions apart, including Uruguay in the Round of 16, is the tournament’s leading light and top goalscrorer with five goals, El Neuvo Pibe (The New Kid) — James Rodriguez. Those in the know, however, will be quick to tell you that James (pronounced Ham-es) is no new kid on the block. Monaco knew and hence forked out £40m for the boy who made his bones in Porto.
The 22-year old is equally adept at making plays by finding yards of space and finishing by finding the back of the net. Just ask Uruguay’s goalie Fernando Muslera and defender Diego Godin, who could do little else but applaud his two dinstinctly different finishes to send Colombia to the last eight.
France: The Super Eagles didn’t get their moniker by being a great defensive unit but Nigeria’s goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama changed all that. Single-handedly, and sometimes with both his paws, Enyeama tightened Nigeria’s resistance at the back and kept an attacking France at bay. As late as the 80th minute, the deadlock was broken by Paul Pogba, who thundered in France’s fourth collective chance in less than a minute.
Apart from Colombia, France are the only side to win their quarterfinal match in regulation time. But don’t be fooled, for coach Didier Deschamps will be the first to accept that the 2-0 scoreline didn’t do that continued…