Brazil have set up a FIFA World Cup™ semi-final with Germany after a thrilling 2-1 victory over Colombia in Fortaleza. The hosts were indebted to their two centre-halves, Thiago Silva and David Luiz, for providing the goals at the Estadio Castelao that ultimately rendered James Rodriguez's late penalty a mere consolation.
History suggested that Luiz Felipe Scolari's side started the game as massive favourites, with Colombia having won just two of the teams' 25 previous meetings - and none since 1991. However, Jose Pekerman's side had arguably been the only team in the last eight to have genuinely impressed in the Round of 16, whereas Brazil - who had exited in the quarter-finals at the last two World Cups - struggled badly against Chile.
From the outset though, there was a pace and purpose to the hosts' play that had been missing from most of their previous showings, with Colombia pinned back in their own half. And after Neymar had narrowly missed out with a free-kick, the goal that Brazil's early play merited arrived on seven minutes.
Like the day's earlier match, it was a set piece that provided the breakthrough, and a defender who provided the finishing touch, with Thiago Silva stealing in at the back post to bundle home Neymar's corner with his left thigh. The Castelao erupted as the goalscorer wheeled away to accept the acclaim, and Brazil's captain would continue to prove a key player at both ends. Soon after scoring, he deflected a goal-bound shot shot from Juan Cuadrado into the side-netting and, later, he thwarted the Colombians when they were charging towards goal with a three-on-one advantage.
Brazil remained the dominant team, though, with their first-half performance easily the best we have seen from them at this World Cup. They would, in fact, have taken a 2-0 lead into the interval had it not been for a superb double save from David Ospina, who first denied Hulk and then Oscar as Brazil continued to apply pressure.
Colombia did improve markedly after the break and, with nerves beginning to show in the hosts' play, Pekerman's side did have the ball in the net - only for Mario Yepes' 67th-minute effort to be ruled out. And though the net was bulging again just two minutes later, it served only to nudge *Los Cafateros *closer to the exit.
The goal was one of the best seen at Brazil 2014 thus far, with David Luiz sizing up a 35-yard free-kick before sending a sweetly struck shot over the wall and into the top-right corner. It was executed with the Paris Saint-Germain defender's trademark set piece technique - side-footed, with minimum curl - and it left Ospina without a hope.
But if Brazil hoped that the strike could enable them to coast calmly towards the final whistle, they had another thing coming. With 10 minutes remaining, the hosts conceded a cast-iron penalty when Julio Cesar brought down substitute Carlos Bacca. James Rodriguez assumed responsibility for the kick and coolly waited for the keeper to commit before side-footing low into the net, ensuring the nerviest of finishes.
Scolari's side held on, though, and can now look forward to a mouth-watering meeting with the Germans on Tuesday at Belo Horizonte's Estadio Mineirao.