Well that was four fantastic days of football wasn’t it?! For the first time all 8 group winners made it through to the quarterfinals, but it wasn’t easy for most of them! As we go through the games you’ll see why I tend to think of this Round of 16 as the Rise of the Goalkeepers. I’m already calling the next round the Battle of the Scrapers by the way ! Despite having watch over 20 years of tournament football I’ve never seen so many late goals or extra-time matches in one round! Let’s look at the first 4 matches…
The big match of Day 1 was Scolari’s Stuttering Brazil vs. Sampaolo’s Chile in Belo Horizonte. Given Brasil’s unconvincing performances in the first round it wasn’t hard to see this being a tight affair and that is exactly what we got. An own-goal by Chile opened Brazil’s account, but they were later pegged back by an opportunistic strike by Alexis Sanchez. The game remained 1-1 throughout and into extra-time when Chile almost stole it at the death, with a shot off the crossbar in the 119th min by Mauricio Pinilla! Ultimately we witnessed the first penalty shootout of Brazil 2014. A whole nation was on a knife edge as Brazil overcame the brave and tenacious Chile 3-2 on pens with star boy Neymar slotting home the winning kick. Much of the win was due to their goalie Julio Cesar masterfully saving 2 Chilean attempts – personal redemption for his part in Brazil’s quarterfinal loss to The Netherlands 4 years ago: Brazil 1 – Chile 1 (3-2 APKs). Ave Cesar!
Next we had the impressive Colombia lead by Jose Pekerman vs Oscar Tabarez’s Suarez-less Uruguay in Rio de Janeiro. Here a new star was born in James Rodriguez as he lead Colombia to a dismantling of the Celeste. With what has to be one of the best goals of the tournament, Rodriguez opened the scoring with a superb 20-odd yard volley set up by his chest control that went in off the crossbar! Not even the impressive Uruguayan goalie Muslera could stop that one! James then doubled his tally later on by finishing a superb team move, wit the assist coming from the consistently impressive Juan Cuadrado. Colombia will face Brasil in their first ever quarterfinal appearance, while Uruguay followed in the footsteps of their errant forward back to Montevideo: Colombia 2 – Uruguay 0. Libertad y Orden!
Day 2 began with Miguel Herrera’s revitalised Mexico against the tournament pacesetters in Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands , in the extreme heat & humidity of Fortaleza. Mexico deservedly struck first with a goal by Gio Dos Santos in the 48th minute. This seemed to awaken the Dutch from their slumber and the match went back and forth as the Oranje searched for an equaliser while Mexico searched for a killer 2nd goal! As Mexico edging closer to that elusive quarterfinal appearance, van Gaal made an inspired substitution bringing on Klaas-Jan Huntelaar for the lethargic Robin van Persie inmin 78. Ten minutes and one touch later and the Netherlands had their equaliser in a rasping 25 yard screamer from Wesley Sneijder! To make matters worse for the Mexicans a customary Arjen Robben run deep into injury-time lead to a winner from a penalty dispatched by the substitute with the golden touch. Goalkeeper Ochoa had kept out the dutch brilliantly for almost 80 minutes but in the end he and Mexico were out: Holland 2 – Mexico 1. Hup Holland Hup!
The Day closed with a battle worthy of the ancient Colosseum as Jorge Luis Pinto’s plucky Costa Rica went up against Fernando Santos’ dogged Greeks in Recife. Brimming with confidence after winning their group Los Ticos took the game to Greece with style and panache and were rewarded with the lead coming from a Bryan Ruiz header in min 52. However disaster struck in the dismissal of defender Duarte for two bookings in the 66th minute and from that point on it was all Greece as Costa Rica held on for dear life! The Europeans were profligate and despite several chances could not score more than a late 90th minute equaliser by Socratis Papastathopoulos, as Costa Rican goalkeeper Keilor Navas had the game of his life! More drama followed as a frustrated Fernando Santos also got his marching orders for excessive protestations at full-time! Despite what was a marathon of extra-time for them, Los Ticos unerringly dispatched all their penalties beating the luckless Greeks 5-3 in the shoot-out, Navas again playing the part of the hero in their Odyssey: Costa Rica 0 – Greece 0 (5-3 APK). Pura Vida!