Saved by the woodwork, Brazil play on
By Karl Ritter ,AP
June 30, 2014, 12:00 am TWN
BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil -- Tight and tense as it was, it was enough to keep Brazil's national obsession of winning the World Cup on home soil from taking a desperately disappointing turn.
And it wasn't Neymar, the country's poster boy for this year's World Cup, that played the key role this time. It was goalkeeper Julio Cesar, the country's scapegoat from the last World Cup, who made several crucial saves and even got some help from the woodwork in a 3-2 penalty shootout win over Chile.
With the score level at 1-1 on Saturday, Brazil was inches away from an early exit when Chile forward Mauricio Pinilla hit the crossbar in the final moments of extra time.
Then, on the final kick of the match and after a pair of saves from Cesar in the shootout, Gonzalo Jara hit the post.
“I believe the Brazilian people just needed this,” said Cesar, who made a mistake four years ago in South Africa that led to a quarterfinal loss. “The players, everybody else, we needed this.”
The fans still have to wait to celebrate the title, however. There are three more matches to win before the home team can lay claim to a sixth World Cup title.
“Let's see if we can make fewer mistakes in the next matches,” Brazil coach Felipe Scolari said. “Perhaps next time we won't be as lucky.”
To be fair, it wasn't just luck that saw Brazil through to the quarterfinals at Mineirao Stadium, which was a sea of Brazilian yellow with islands of Chilean red.
Neymar, David Luiz and Marcelo scored in the shootout, and Cesar saved penalties from Pinilla and Alexis Sanchez before watching Jara's final attempt hit the post.
The game over, some Brazilian players fell to the ground, exhausted and emotionally drained. Willian, who missed a penalty for Brazil, sobbed uncontrollably, as Fred helped him to his feet.
The Chileans stood still, staring into the ground, wiping the sweat off their faces.
Brazil's Neymar, right, fights for the ball with Chile's Mauricio Isla during their World Cup soccer match at Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 28. (AP)