Long before Hulk had missed his penalty to take Brazil to the brink of extinction, he believed himself to be a hero. That’s how this incredible story of a round of 16 match between the shaky hosts and the courageous Chileans begins at the Estádio Mineirão in Belo Horizonte.
For exactly 15 seconds of this long World Cup campaign, Hulk thought he had finally lived up to his name. Quite like the green and angry monster from the comic books, Brazil’s yellow-jerseyed number seven had floated a few feet from the ground and into Chile’s six-yard box. Then, while still levitating, Hulk captured a long ball with the right of his flexed chest, training it down to his left shin, which tapped the sphere past a fallen Claudio Bravo’s reach.
It was the 55th minute of the game and all of Estadio Mineirão streamed down field-ward as one to greet their saviour, who raised his hands by the tramlines and shed a tear or two. He had been heavily criticised for his lacklustre performances in the group stages. and In fact, Hulk had kicked fresh air from a far easier position in the first half, causing Belo Horizonte to go up in angry whistles. Now, he had ensured that he was the difference between the hosts and a strong-willed Chile.
Or had he?
Fifteen seconds into his teary celebration, referee Howard Webb whistled down the goal and flashed the moist-eyed man a yellow card. The long ball, he was told, had been trapped with the help of his hand. Handball, no goal. Now, like Hulk, all of Brazil cried; not so much at his stupidity, but at the helplessness they felt against an unconquerable Chilean side.
Reputation to uphold
The contest wasn’t for the weak-hearted but it was always expected to be that kind of a game, considering Jorge Sampaoli’s effervescent boys had a giant-slaying reputation to live up to. They had hunted down holders Spain in the group stages. Having enjoyed the taste of a champion’s flesh, they bayed for the whole meal in the five-time winners. On the prowl, never had they let their meaty prey out of sight. Not during regulation time and surely not once the thirty extra minutes began.
In the first half, Chile’s centre-backs of Francisco Silva and Mauricio Isla kept Neymar Jr in the tightest of checks. That alone ensured little good happened for Brazil upfront, what with Fred and Hulk stringing together nothing but space between them. When Bravo’s side attacked, they did so in droves, with Alexis Sanchez zigging and Arturo Vidal zagging through a helpless Brazil defence.
Helpless, David Luiz continued…