Is it possible to predict how exciting a FIFA World Cup™ knockout match will be, simply based on where the two teams are from? On the basis of Brazil 2014, the answer would appear to be no, with thrills and spills abounding across a Round of 16 stage in which a record five encounters went to extra time.
Nor were followers of the host nation spared any nail-biting, with A Seleção taken all the way to a dramatic penalty shoot-out finale by continental rivals Chile. And intriguingly, despite Brazilian supporters generally expecting their team to come up against European heavyweights in the decisive stages of the global showpiece – such as in all five of their Final triumphs – they are now set to meet another familiar face, Colombia, in the last eight in Fortaleza.
“That means, in general terms, a different type of game,” said Ramires, when asked by FIFA.com about facing South American rather than European opposition. “Sometimes it seems they want to beat you even more than other teams do. There’s no knack to tackling these games, they’re always incredibly difficult. They’ve got an added dimension.”
In a way, this game has a Copa America feel to it. Except it’s even more important and the pressure even greater.
Logic backs up the Chelsea midfielder, with two main scenarios facing O País Pentacampeão when they meet regional rivals at the World Cup. The first is an always fiercely-contested clásico against age-old foes Argentina or Uruguay; the second a clash with a team over which Brazil have enjoyed significant historical dominance, the case with the rest of the CONMEBOL Zone, thus handing opponents even more motivation to turn tradition on its head on the biggest stage of all.
Record books in their favour
Even so, to date Brazil have lost just two of their 13 encounters with South American teams at this competition: the 1950 Maracanazo against Uruguay and their Italy 1990 Round of 16 tie with Argentina. Of the remaining 11, nine were won and two drawn, including Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Chile in Belo Horizonte. Encouraging news, surely, for Brazilian supporters?
Moreover, in competitive games with quarter-final opponents Los Cafeteros, Brazil have won 15, drawn eight and lost just twice, with Venezuela the only CONMEBOL nation to have recorded fewer victories against A Seleção - one. Yet nobody in the Brazil camp is expecting an easy ride on Friday, particularly with Colombia star man James Rodriguez in such inspirational form.
“There’s no doubt that being continental rivals has a huge impact,” said Dani Alves, also in conversation with FIFA.com. “Emotionally, they’re very tough games, because unlike European nations, we come up against each other all the time – in the Copa America, in World Cup qualifying.
“In technical terms too, it’s a different style of football, though that side of things is changing,” continued the Barcelona right-back. “Football has evolved a lot and nearly all the best South American players are in Europe. That’s made the national teams here get even better and stronger. The games are still intense, with that South American flavour, but with more players used to always playing at the very highest level.”
All of which suggests that a record of just 87 defeats from 449 competitive games against continental rivals – over half of those losses coming against Uruguay or Argentina – can arguably be discounted at the Estadio Castelao. “In a way, this game has a Copa America feel to it,” said Alves, as the discussion concluded. “Except it’s even more important and the pressure even greater. I think that sums it up.”