The World Cup Calendar, June 28th. Hail Cesar

No, this is not a shout out to former Roman emperor Julius Caesar, nor is it a reference to the mediocre George Clooney movie, but rather it is giving credit to Brazil’s goalkeeper, Julio Cesar, and his performance against Chile in this Round of 16 tie in Belo Horizonte. Today’s featured World Cup Calendar match may not have been a high scoring game, but it was a classic in its own way. It was end to end, all action excitement featuring some world class talent such as Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and Neymar. It was an epic battle feature two of South America’s most passionate teams.

One of the highlights of the match was actually minutes before kick off. The national anthem of Brazil was impressive in its own right, due to the stadium being a home tie for Brazil. It was the Chile national anthem that caught the attention of the world. Never have I seen a team belt out their anthem with as much vigour and passion as that Chilean team. Their coach, an Argentinean, Jorge Sampoli, appeared to be on the verge of tears. Towards the end they cut the backing music and all that could be heard above the boos of the Brazilian crowd were the fervent voices of the Chilean fans.

David Luiz had the first real chance of the game. Hulk took a corner, which was knocked away by the defence. The ball fell to Luiz on the edge of the box. He took a wonderful touch, steering the ball away from his marker, allowing himself to tee the shot up. He blasted a shot through the packed penalty box, his shot ending up just wide of Claudio Bravo’s goal.

Chile had a stinging effort shortly after. They whipped a cross into the area, but saw the ball headed to relative safety by Fernandinho. Chilean midfielder Charles Aranguiz reached the ball first, unleashing a fearsome volley towards goal. It dipped to the right of the goalpost, but was enough to give Chile confidence.

Twenty minutes into the first half and Brazil had taken the lead. Neymar fired a terrific cross into the box and was met by the head of Thiago Silva. Silva’s header knocked the ball to the back post, causing chaos amongst the Chilean defence. Luiz got a half yard of space and managed to turn his neck to head the ball into the back of the net to send the crowd into rapture.

Chile equalised fifteen minutes later, after a relatively uneventful period of time. Marcelo took a throw in deep into his own half, throwing the ball to Hulk. The pass was too lightly weighted, and Eduardo Vargas stole the ball before it could reach Marcelo. Vargas cut inside the box and passed the ball to Chile’s Alexis Sanchez. Sanchez steadied himself before firing a shot low past Julio Cesar, tying the game level. Sanchez had received much criticism for how high the forward wore his shorts during that tournament, but with finishes like that his bizarre fashion choice was more than justified!

Brazil thought they had a penalty towards the end of the first half. Neymar took down a long pass on his chest inside the box, burning Francisco Silva for pace in the process. Neymar got sandwiched in between Silva and Gary Medel, with Medel appearing to bodyslam Neymar. The referee adjudged Neymar to have made the most of the incident, waving play on, much to the horror of Neymar.

Early on in the second half and Hulk believed he had given Brazil the lead once again. Marcelo crossed the ball from over 40 yards out, and his pass was perfectly weighted. Hulk chested the ball down, completely alienating Gonzalo Jara and Eugenio Mena in one swift move. He hammered the ball past Claudio Bravo and ran to knee slide in celebration. The Brazilian bench, featuring Brazils 2002 World Cup winning coach Luis Felipe Scolari, were celebrating wildly. That was until referee Howard Webb disallowed the goal. He believed that Hulk had used his arm to control the ball. Replays indicated that Webb was spot on.

Brazil had Julio Cesar to thank for keeping the scores level after he made a magnificent save to keep the game tied. Mauricio Isla bombed forward down the wing, sliding a low cross into the box from. Charles Aranguiz broke forward from midfield, sliding in to reach the ball and hook it towards goal. The speed of this move should have seen Chile score, however, Cesar leapt forward to stop the shot. It was a world class save from a goalkeeper who hadn’t been thought of as world class for at least three years.

Brazil were gaining confidence, playing with ease around the Chilean box. Ramires sprayed a pass to Hulk, who skipped round Chile’s packed defence. Hulk broke into the box from the right, blasting a venomous shot at Claudio Bravo who pushed it wide and Brazil tried desperately to regain possession. They got touches of the ball, but eventually the ball wound up in the safety of Bravo’s arms.

The game went to extra time and both sides seemed to be caught between going all out for a winner, and wanting to hold out for penalties. Brazil had a long shot from over 30 yards out which stung the gloves of Bravo. Then in the second period of extra time, substitute Mauricio Pinilla hit the post from distance.

The game went to penalties and for a brief moment, the stadium fell silent. You could cut the tension with a knife. Brazil went first, David Luiz firing an unstoppable penalty to his right. Pinilla, who so nearly won Chile the match in extra time, saw his penalty saved by Cesar. Pinilla’s miss looked to be less important as Willian, fresh off the bench, tapped his effort wide of the post, though Alexis Sanchez dropped his side back in it by firing his shot into the stomach of Julio Cesar. Sanchez was visibly distraught, pulling his shorts ludicrously high up in frustration. Marcelo and Aranguiz both netted their penalties. Hulk, who had been both Brazil’s brightest and most frustrating player against Chile, saw his shot saved by Bravo, and Marcelo Diaz scored to tie the penalties up, essentially making the fifth round of penalties a sudden death situation. Neymar performed a ridiculous run up, managing to outfox Bravo, sending the goalkeeper one way and slotting the ball the other. The pressure fell on Gonzalo Jara to keep the tie alive. Up stepped the full back, looking confident, but alas, confidence is only half the battle. He hit his penalty off the post and looked in horror as the ball bounced out.

And just like that, Chile were eliminated. They had finished second in a group with Spain and the Netherlands and their fans had travelled across the border in their thousands. It was a cruel blow to the team. They had been second best to Brazil throughout, but were by no means poor. They gave a good account of themselves and could hold their heads up high after that performance. Brazil progressed, though there were some question marks. They played well but couldn’t finish off their opposition, a similar story to their draw with Mexico days before. As it turned out, it wasn’t scoring goals that were Brazil’s problem, but rather keeping them out. They did concede seven to Germany in the semi finals, but we’ll discuss that particular game further on July 8th! While Julio Cesar didn’t exactly cover himself in glory against the Germans, he was outstanding against his South American rivals. He made terrific saves throughout and made two crucial saves in the penalty shoot out at the end.

Tomorrow’s game: June 29th. Netherlands v Yugoslavia. 1998.