Brazil 2-1 Colombia: Brazil prevail in a very aggressive game

July 5, 2014

The starting line-ups

Goals from both centre-backs put Brazil into the semi-finals.

Luiz Felipe Scolari made a straight swap at right-back, with Maicon in for Daniel Alves, while Paulinho replaced the suspended Luiz Gustavo.

Colombia coach Jose Pekerman surprisingly brought in Fredy Guarin in central midfield, with Abel Aguilar dropping out.

The story here was the sheer physicality, aggression and brutality of the game – to be frank, not much football was played.


The key statistic is 41:07 – that’s the ‘ball-in-play’ time. From 96 minutes of play, well under half that time was actually spent playing football, such was the extent of this stop-start battle, based around set-pieces. For purposes of comparison, that’s around 10 minutes less than for the Germany v France game earlier in the day, and it was extremely noticeable. Some free-kicks in shooting positions took over two minutes to take, and there were 54 fouls in the match.

Both sides took a very physical approach to stopping the opposition, and this felt like a parody of the type of games you regularly find in South America – two great number tens, not much else, and both sides kicking limps out of each other. James Rodriguez was kicked throughout the game, particularly by Fernandinho, while Neymar was also repeatedly fouled, and ended the game with a tournament-ending injury following a challenge from Juan Zuniga.

Referee Velasco Caballo allowed this violence to continue without reaching for his pocket and clamping down strictly on some of the stronger challenges. This was a huge surprise. Caballo is Spanish, and one of the major features of Spanish refereeing is how easily they book players, which is partly why La Liga is such a good place for playmakers to thrive, as they’re given such protection.

James Rodriguez

The star of this game was on the defeated side. James Rodriguez was sensational yet again in his number ten role, and while the crucial passes didn’t always come off, it’s remarkable that he was so capable of finding space in this utter bloodbath of a football game.

Rodriguez’s spatial awareness is absolutely brilliant, and he repeatedly darted in front of, and then in behind, the ultra-physical midfield pairing of Fernandinho and Paulinho. His best moment came on 22 minutes, with a rare piece of good counter-attacking play – Juan Cuadrado won possession in the right-back zone, and Rodriguez got the ball, jinked past two men to create a 4 v 2 break, and returned the ball to Cuadrado…but the winger made the wrong decision and passed straight at Thiago Silva. Cuadrado’s poor decision-making was a feature of this game, although Marcelo deserves credit for shackling him.

Only Rodriguez and Cuadrado have shone going forward for Colombia, with Victor Ibarbo and Teo Gutierrez very quiet, and with Cuadrado disappointing here, it was all on Rodriguez.

The moment that encapsulated Rodriguez’s experience in this match, however, was on 24 minutes, when he received the ball in front of Brazil’s midfielders, dribbled past Paulinho and then was fouled by Fernandinho when attempting to dribble past him, too. Fernandinho left his foot in, Paulinho closed in and made sure Rodriguez couldn’t get away, and within seconds, ten players were around the ball scuffling. Rodriguez kept hold of the ball, played a quick free-kick, and Colombia were on the attack – but Ibarbo didn’t realise the referee had waved play on, and conceded possession.

It summarised the game perfectly: Rodriguez showing great skill, Rodriguez being fouled, both sides wanting a fight rather than a game, Rodriguez the only man trying to play football, and his teammates letting him down with poor play.

At times it felt like Rodriguez was trying too hard – his passing was sometimes too ambitious, and he conceded possession frequently. But he was trying to make things happen, and the skill in this frantic game was about finding space in the first place, never mind actually playing the right passes. Rodriguez did that more than anyone.

Neymar found life more difficult, but received space towards the left of the pitch, often in a pocket of space thanks to Guarin’s advanced positioning (in comparison to the man he replaced, Aguilar) and the fact Zuniga stuck very tight to Hulk. Like Rodriguez, though, he often got the final pass wrong.

Really, there wasn’t too much more to the tactical battle. There was absolutely no flow to the game, and it took until midway through the first half before things settled down and either side started retaining possession. It was basically a game of set-pieces, which suited Brazil as the more physical side. Thiago Silva converted from a corner in the first half, David Luiz fired in a free-kick after the break.

Final 20

The pattern of the game barely changed until the final 20 minutes, when Colombia built pressure. Substitutes helped, with Carlos Bacca and Adrian Ramos on for Ibarbo and Gutierrez – those two, and Rodriguez, combined to win the penalty, which Rodriguez scored to put Colombia back into the game.

But this match wasn’t really about shapes, formations or individuals – it was about the pace of the game, and how the sides coped. And, at 2-1 up, Brazil didn’t cope. For some reason, they started absolutely thumping the ball downfield when they won it – with 20 minutes still remaining. They conceded possession readily, making no attempt to cool the tempo, or counter-attack to get a third goal. This seemed more about panic than deliberate strategy, and the obvious result was that Colombia kept on piling forward.

Scolari put on Ramires for Hulk to provide more midfield energy, then Hernanes for Paulinho to help retain the ball, and then finally Henrique replaced the injured Neymar to help deal with the constant pressure. None of the trio had much of an impact, and while Colombia couldn’t manage an equaliser, Brazil were incredibly nervous and lucky to hold on for the win


This will be remembered as a highly physical game, which got out of control. The two number tens attempted to play, the opposition concentrated on fouling them, and the referee didn’t clamp down.

There was no tactical battle for long periods, aside from the raw physicality. No-one had time on the ball, neither side built passing moves, and the battle in open play was basically a prelude to the various set-piece chances. Only Rodriguez rose above the brutality to show some nice touches.

All this suits Brazil, though. As the BBC’s Tim Vickery neatly put it a couple of days ago, “Brazil no longer seek to beat opponents on flow, they now look to win on moments,” ie counter-attacks and dead ball situations.

A stop-start game of set-pieces suited them perfectly – there was no flow, and it was all about set-pieces.

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