Brazil overcame Spain 4-2 on penalties to reach the FIFA U-20 World Cup semi-finals, after a thrilling 2-2 draw in Pereira. Gabriel was the South Americans' hero, saving spot-kicks from Jordi Amat and Alvaro Vazquez to book Ney Franco's side a date with Mexico in the same city on Wednesday. Willian had tapped A Seleção ahead against the run of play, before Rodrigo's equaliser against his country of birth took the game into extra time, in which Alvaro Vazquez cancelled out Dudu's goal.
There was a wonderful atmosphere before kick-off in Pereira, with chants of 'Bra-sil, Bra-sil' reverberating around the Estadio Hernan Ramirez Villegas. However, it was Spain who found their rhythm faster. With just three minutes on the clock, Rodrigo conned Juan Jesus with a delightful feint, cut inside from the left and curled the ball narrowly wide.
Brazil were next to threaten. Henrique received possession 20 yards from goal and threaded the ball through to Philippe Coutinho. Inside the area, from a promising position, the No10 shot first time, but Jordi Amat flung himself down to make an brilliant, decisive block.
The Iberians were dominating possession, and sights of goal soon began to flow for the men in red. On 20 minutes Rodrigo admirably held off Juan Jesus and teed-up Isco on the edge of the box. The Valencia player's drive nevertheless went straight at goalkeeper Gabriel.
Sergio Canales, surrounded by three markers, employed two sumptuous drag-backs inside the box to deceive two opponents and almost make a chance for himself, before the Brazilian defence managed to clear the danger. Then Isco dinked a delightful, short pass through for Rodrigo to run on to. The Rio de Janeiro-born striker shot powerfully from eight yards out, but Gabriel made a fine save with his legs.
After Romeu's 20-yard drive forced the Gabriel into a fine diving save on 29 minutes, Brazil awoke from their slumber. Oscar tricked his way into a shooting position before trying to cross when he should have shot, but the South Americans were soon ahead. Philippe Coutinho broke through the midfield and fed Henrique, who controlled it out on the left and produced a super curler, which went up and over Fernando Pacheco but came back off the crossbar. However, Willian reacted first to volley it home from five yards.
Fernando Pacheco then denied Danilo from close range, before a 22-yard Canales piledriver went just inches wide of the Brazil post.
Spain began the second half as they had the first: taking the game to their adversaries and calling Gabriel into action. A fierce Isco drive through a crowded box forced the Cruzeiro man to fling himself to his right and concede the corner, while a Koke effort also needed a smart save.
Oscar did give Brazil a brief moment of respite, carrying the ball unchallenged for 25 yards until the edge of the box, before shooting two yards wide, but on 57 minutes Spain restored parity. After Canales and Hugo Mallo combined nicely down the right, the latter chipped the ball into the area and Rodrigo got in front of Bruno Uvini to nod home from close range.
Danilo had a decent opportunity to restore Brazil's lead on 63 minutes, but after outjumping Planas he failed to keep his header down. Spain hit back immediately. Canales broke from the halfway line and his clever pass between two defenders sent Koke through on goal. The No16 produced a fine, goal-bound shot from the edge of the box, but Gabriel made a superb save with his right foot.
On 79 minutes, Sergi Roberto did very well to rob Juan Jesus of possession on the edge of the box. He fed Rodrigo but the forward's touch deserted him. It was to be the impressive No9's last involvement, as he was withdrawn for Alvaro Vazquez.
Spain almost went clean through twice in the last five minutes, but the alert Gabriel dashed from his line to deny Sergi Roberto and Vazquez. It ensured the contest would go to extra time.
Within minutes of the restart, Isco fired an impressive bullet just high and wide, and it proved the prelude to an electric period. On 100 minutes, Dudu broke in from the left, played a one-two with Henrique, took the ball in his stride and passed it firmly into the bottom corner from the edge of the box.
Spain levelled immediately, though. Isco freed Planas down the left and his inviting cross was turned home by the unmarked Vazquez at the back post. It was the No20's fifth goal of the tournament, making him Colombia 2011's outright top scorer.
The second half of extra time was again gripping, with Negueba teasing the Spaniards with his nimble footwork and Isco always looking to create something. Ultimately, though, the scoreline remained as it was, meaning that a second quarter-final would be determined by penalties.
And it was Brazil who put their Copa America nightmare behind them to emerge triumphant.