BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL – Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar kept the host nation’s hopes of World Cup glory alive on Saturday, saving two spot-kicks in a shootout against Chile to send it into the last eight 3-2 on penalties following a pulsating 1-1 draw after extra time.
Four years to the day since Brazil eliminated Chile at the same stage of the 2010 tournament, it did it again when Gonzalo Jara crashed his spot-kick against the post after Cesar had twice denied the battling Chileans.
Man-of-the-match Cesar, heavily criticized four years ago after Brazil’s World Cup exit to the Netherlands, also made an outstanding save in the second half of normal time as the five-time champions moved unconvincingly into a quarterfinal against Uruguay or Colombia.
David Luiz had put Brazil ahead after 18 minutes but Alexis Sanchez equalized for battling Chile before halftime and Brazil was on the brink of elimination after Willian and Hulk had failed to convert their spot-kicks.
Fortunately for Brazil, Cesar also saved penalties from Mauricio Pinilla and Alexis before Jara’s doomed attempt.
“It was complicated,” Cesar said. “The pressure of representing Brazil and playing at home is really great. We played well in the first half but after Chile equalized they got into the game.
“My teammates gave me support and strength. My big dream is that Brazil have a party,” said the ‘keeper after helping avoid Brazil’s first home defeat in a competitive game since 1975.
For Chile it was a bitter end to a promising World Cup after beating holder Spain in the group stage to cement its status as the tournament dark horses.
It failed, however, to exorcise its Brazilian demons once again and fell to them at the same stage as in 1998 and 2010, the last two times it was in the tournament.
Chile has never managed to beat Brazil at home and has won just seven of 69 games against it.
The Brazilians, who have now eliminated their fellow South Americans in four World Cups including in the 1962 semifinals in Chile, set a blistering pace and Marcelo took a first crack at goal with a volley that sailed wide.
Chile quickly lost the battle in midfield but its defense kept tournament joint top scorer Neymar in check.
It was helpless, though, when Neymar whipped in a corner in the 18th minute, Thiago Silva headed it on and Luiz, with what looked like some help from Chile’s Jara, bundled it in for his first international goal in his 40th appearance.
With the small red patches of Chile fans in Mineirao Stadium swallowed up by a vast sea of yellow shirts, five-time champion Brazil kept pouring forward and Neymar should have done better when he raced clear, only to drive a low shot wide.
Chile, however, leveled 14 minutes later after making the most of a throw-in mix-up between Hulk and Marcelo to send Alexis into the box and the forward drilled the ball in to stun the crowd into temporary silence.
Neymar went agonizingly close with a header that scraped past the post and controlled a superb deep cross-field ball to set up Fred who fired over.
Dani Alves tested Claudio Bravo with a thundering long-range effort but the Chile ‘keeper did well to tip it over the bar.
Brazil, which had won nine of its previous 10 games against Chile, thought it had scored again early in the second half when Hulk controlled a deep cross and scuffed the ball in, but referee Howard Webb booked the forward for handball.
With the clock ticking and Brazil getting more nervous, the Chileans felt confident they could pull off a huge upset, similar to Brazil’s shock defeat in the 1950 World Cup final against Uruguay.