By Gideon Long
BRAZIL are under intense pressure to breathe life into their World Cup campaign and produce a performance worthy of champions when they face Colombia and their free-scoring midfielder James Rodriguez in Friday’s quarter-final.
After their laboured win over Chile in a penalty shootout in their last match, the Brazilians have been berated by their fans and former players. Among them is none other than Zico, their great playmaker from the 1980s.
“The fact is that we are lacking a proper game plan,” he wrote in a column in British newspaper The Guardian.
“There is no more build-up from the back,” he complained, saying that against Chile the Brazilians “once again resorted to long balls to Neymar”.
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has taken such criticism in his stride.
“It’s normal that they (the fans and the media) are demanding,” he said.
“We’re facing up to our difficulties and we’ll see if we can improve our balance in the next game from start to finish, and not have the ups and downs that we had in the previous games.”
Striker Neymar, scorer of four of Brazil’s eight World Cup goals, is nursing a thigh injury picked up against the Chileans but looks certain to start.
Scolari’s biggest selection headache is in midfield, where Luiz Gustavo is suspended after being booked againstChile. Ramires is his most likely replacement.
In stark contrast to the angst-ridden Brazilians, the Colombians seem to be enjoying every minute of their best ever World Cup campaign.
They have won all four matches, scoring 11 goals in the process and conceding just two.
In Rodriguez, they have produced one of the revelations of the competition. He has scored five, including a contender for goal of the tournament in a 2-0 defeat of Uruguay in the last round.
“There’s no point in just stopping James. We need to stop the whole Colombian team.” Scolari said. “They’re a team that plays easily, nice football, they are calm and organised.”
History is firmly on Brazil’s side.
In their 25 previous meetings Colombia have won just twice and the last time was 23 years ago, before the baby-faced Rodriguez was even born.
Brazil’s 15 victories include a 9-0 rout at the 1957 Copa America, a 6-2 drubbing in Rio de Janeiro in 1969 and a crushing 6-0 win in the same city in 1977.
For every goal that Colombia have scored against the Brazilians, Brazil have scored five.
But their last four encounters have ended in draws, the hosts look vulnerable and Brazil have bowed out at this stage at the last two World Cups.
The five-times champions have not lost a competitive match on home soil since 1975, when Peru beat them 3-1 in the Copa America.
That remarkable record will be put to the test in Fortaleza’s Castelao arena on Friday as perhaps never before.