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Failure is not an option for Brazil

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Brazil's Neymar (centre) practises with Hulk (right) and Bernard on Friday in preparation for the game vs. Chile.

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Brazil's Neymar (centre) practises with Hulk (right) and Bernard on Friday in preparation for the game vs. Chile.

Brazil's journey to the Maracana, should they complete the trip, will take the World Cup hosts from Belo Horizonte in the southeast of the country to Fortaleza on the northeast coast, back to Belo Horizonte and then south to Rio de Janeiro.

It's a tour of just over 5,000 kilometres, but it's one the five-time world champions are desperate to make. They've yet to play a single match at the Maracana, and if they end up taking the field at the iconic stadium it will mean they've qualified for the July 13 final.

Which is what's been expected of them all along.

But Brazil's World Cup to date has been rather less than awe-inspiring. They benefited from some poor officiating in their Sao Paulo opener against Croatia; they failed to find the back of the net against Mexico and standout goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa in Fortaleza.

And while they romped to a 4-1 win in Brasilia they did so against Cameroon, which has already gone home after failing to pick up a single point.

Given the performances, and the difficult path ahead, it was hardly surprising that Selecao manager Luiz Felipe Scolari struck a cautious tone in his Friday press conference, offering that his side was playing to just 80 per cent of the ability it showed in winning last year's Confederations Cup.

The 65-year-old also admitted to nerves and anxiety in the Brazil camp and spoke glowingly about round of 16 opponents Chile, who he acknowledged had displayed "a lot of quality" in beating Spain and finishing runners-up to the Netherlands in Group B.

"If I could choose, I would choose another opponent," he said. "South American teams are always tough."

Should Brazil defeat La Roja at Estadio Mineirao (11 a.m., CBC) they will get another South American foe in Fortaleza. Colombia and Uruguay are set to contest today's other knockout match, and either of them could trouble Brazil at Estadio Castelao.

Colombia, the Group C winners, were just one of four teams to win all their group stage games (Argentina, Belgium and the Netherlands are the others) and have been getting all-world performances from James Rodriguez, who is among the early candidate's for the tournament's Golden Ball. Uruguay, meanwhile, will be a unified, tenacious outfit following the suspension of star striker Luis Suarez.

After that, a semifinal against one of France and Germany could await, although if this World Cup has taught us anything it's that predictions -- even the ones that seem obvious -- are futile. Nigeria and Algeria are at this stage for a reason, and both will be heard from.

The unpredictability of this competition is another reason why Scolari and his players have been careful to avoid getting ahead of themselves. Reigning champions Spain, as well as marquee sides such as England, Italy and Portugal, are already eliminated, and while the tournament has been wildly entertaining it has also left more than a few people scratching their heads.

When asked about a potential final against Argentina, Scolari would only remark that Brazil's archrivals were "playing well" before getting back to the matter at hand.

"We can speak of the final after moving from phase to phase. The next step is Chile," he said, adding, "You only get the chance to get to the final if you win."

 

Spot kicks

Luis Suarez' suspension was appropriate given the offence (he bit Italy's Giorgio Chiellini) and his status as a repeat offender. But the extent towards which the Uruguay striker has been vilified and criminalized (he was escorted from his hotel by the military police) is absurd. It's creepy. And it speaks to just how much people enjoy being angry at something.

Monday's Germany-Algeria showdown is one of the more fascinating round of 16 matchups. In 1982 Algeria beat then-West Germany 2-1 in Gijon, only to go out of the World Cup after West Germany and Austria played to a mutually beneficial draw that was widely perceived as unsporting, if not outright fixed. Revenge could well be on the Fennec Foxes' minds, although none of their players were even born when the suspicious match took place.

 

jerradpeters@gmail.com

Twitter @JerradPeters

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 28, 2014 C7

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