Luiz Felipe Scolari finds way to keep tears at bay while David Luiz’s bazooka shell of a free-kick releases pent-up angst
There was a time, not long ago, when international football looked to be turning into a cold sport, a matter of precision engineering, two thrillingly refined technical teams lined up and left to cool for 90 minutes. Not in Fortaleza, where the World Cup quarter-final between Brazil and Colombia felt at times like sitting slightly too close to a scheduled volcanic eruption.
At the end of it Brazil are through to the semi-finals after a spitting, bubbling, superheated mess of a match, during which a team who came into this game apparently drained by their own weepy, tactically constipated appearances in the past four matches erupted into angry, vibrant life.
Brazil ran, scrapped, wrestled and were hanging on at times against an unbowed and heroically committed Colombia. At the end, as the final whistle went to alarmingly unbound roars it seemed significant that Thiago Silva, Brazil’s king of tears, was one of the few players to remain on his feet at the Estádio Castelão. It was a huge occasion all round for Brazil’s centre-half, who scored the opening goal, produced a forceful captain’s performance and was later booked, meaning he will miss the semi-final against Germany.
That can wait for now. This was an extraordinary occasion in its own right, a match when it seemed clear Brazil could go one of two ways after the most fraught and emotionally claustrophobic buildup to a World Cup quarter-final you are likely to see.
Brazil have, over the decades, provided many key details in the architecture of international football but this felt like something new, football on the verge of a nervous collapse. Welcome to the jogo neurótico! Or indeed, as it turned out, the jogo vulcânico as Brazil did not fold in on themselves, but instead erupted into a display of high speed, highly physical, slightly wild tournament football.
The headline in the Diário do Nordeste on the morning of the match read “Fortaleza de Emoções!” and Brazil had indeed been bunkered away in their fortress, the Granja Comary in Teresópolis where Scolari’s mixture of dandies and athletes of Christ seem to have spent the last few weeks sending each other ever closer to the edge.
There was a suspicion the manager’s pre-match aggression was a tactic to draw a greater adversarial energy out of his mawkish foot soldiers, like tossing a dash of paraffin on to a pile of smouldering logs. Brazil had played like an angry team at the Confederations Cup last year, not so much pressing as throttling opponents with both hands for 90 minutes.
And so they did here, emerging in tune from the start with a fevered crowd in Fortaleza’s Estádio Castelã.
Colombia’s small pockets of fans were hemmed in here by a great steaming, whistling wall of yellow shirts around this steeply-banked oval. As the match kicked off to an obliterating crackle of white noise, Neymar, given a freer role here, popped up first on the right, before switching through the centre and with six minutes gone winning the corner from which Brazil scored the opening goal.
It was the perfect, cloud-lifting, tear-busting goal too, as Neymar’s kick was allowed to pass unhindered through the Colombia area where Thiago Silva bundled it in off his knee. This time there were no tears or prayers, just a chest-banging celebration by the corner flag for Brazil’s captain, a player under great pressure this week, a combination of appalled machismo among some of Brazil’s past players and genuine bemusement at his general weepiness.
Brazil were pumped up, perhaps too pumped up as the half wore on. The venom with which their central midfielders surrounded James Rodríguez will be deemed excessive by some, but it was some way short of the Battle of Santiago and this is still a contact sport. Nor was this clogging, of Brazil 1974 or Holland 2010 vintage, but rather a sustained, premeditated hustle right on the edge of what is permissible, and a tactic that successfully spooked Rodríguez in the second half. He will learn to cope with this attention, as Lionel Messi has – and indeed Neymar was the only player kicked off the field here.
For a while it must be said it was Colombia who froze, a team who have danced their way through these first three weeks but were constricted by the energy of the crowd and the fury of Brazil’s players, capped by a bullocking drunken-Maradona dribble down the left by David Luiz that almost ended with the São Paulo Express in on goal. What a game! This was football without systems, a concussive, instinctive deafening game of scrabbling attack and defence.
Colombia, to their great credit, fought back in the second half, rolling back the noise, the scoreline and their own tournament inexperience. Thy had a goal narrowly disallowed for offside, before the moment the whole footballing world briefly turned a shade of David Luiz, as from 30 yards out David Luiz of the Shed End second tier produced the perfect dipping bazooka shell of a free-kick to make it 2-0.
Fortaleza, from a state of pre-eruption, erupted all over again. Rodríguez scored a deserved goal from the penalty spot and by the end the hosts were hanging on, scrapping like heavyweights in the 12th round.
Colombia were ambushed a little here , and this was by no means a complete performance by Scolari’s team, or even, at times, one that particularly looked like elite football as we know it.
There may yet be more tears to come for Brazil at this World Cup. But what a night in Fortaleza, a match when Brazil’s peculiar pent-up angst took them one step closer to the final, and their heat was too much, just about, for an excellent Colombia team.