Hosts Brazil face a huge challenge when they meet Colombia on Friday evening, with the pressure on Luis Felipe Scolari’s shoulders set to hit a new high.
His side were fortunate to edge past Chile via a penalty shoot-out in the last 16 last weekend, having struggled to contain Barcelona winger Alexis Sanchez throughout the game as the Premier League target made his mark on the contest.
In James Rodriguez they face a similar sort of player, blessed with outrageous skill, pace and flair, with the Monaco winger using the finals to showcase his talents to La Liga contingent Barcelona and Real Madrid with both said to be keen on his services.
Neymar to lead the way
Sanchez’s club team-mate Neymar will lead the charge, having scored four times in four games on home soil, but will require his team-mates to increase the quality in their game or face missing out on a much coveted spot in the semi-finals.
Of all the players in the squad, excluding the ex-Santos superstar, only Queens Park Rangers flop Julio Cesar has impressed. Oscar had shone sporadically, but barring him the displays of others have been lacking the traditional brilliance associated with Brazil.
Jo and Fred are no Ronaldo or Rivaldo, whilst Dani Alves’ faded brilliance has drawn short comparisons with legend Cafu. David Luiz is still as inconsistent as ever, whilst Hulk’s billing as a world-class player looks inaccurate.
Neymar has all the talent in world football, but a virtuoso display may not be enough to send his country through.
Those who expected South American counterparts Colombia to underperform in the absence of star striker Radamel Falcao have been wrong, with Rodriguez’s starring performances filling the void of his Monaco teammate.
They steamrolled a Uruguay side devoid of star man Luis Suarez - emerging with a comfortable 2-0 win - and also beat Greece, Japan and the Ivory Coast en-route to this stage.
What they will face on Friday evening in Fortaleza will be alien to them. The whole country will be behind Brazil, fans simmering with excitement and players brimming with optimism.
For all their weaknesses, Brazil on home soil are a team never to be feared or discounted. They still remain favourites for the tournament amongst the bookmakers, in spite of their lacklustre performances so far.
They were fortunate to beat Croatia in the first match of the tournament, and were poor during the 0-0 draw with Mexico.
Scolari will know that his job hinges on success. Win, and the chances of remaining in the job improve ever higher.
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