MARC ILES' WORLD CUP COLUMN: No world of difference between the top contenders
THEY say if you can’t be good, be lucky – and that sentiment seems to apply perfectly to Brazil right now.
Saved by the width of a crossbar against Chile, and maybe the width of the post in the penalty shootout, Big Phil Scolari’s side live to fight another day after a quite brilliant game of football on Saturday evening.
It had to be good – it captured the attention of my seven-year-old son for 120 minutes. Nothing has done that since the last update of Angry Birds.
Did Brazil deserve it? Possibly not. Are they going to have to improve to win it? Definitely.
In their advantage, however, is the fact that no side in this World Cup has looked infallible in the same way that Spain have in recent major tournaments.
Over the last eight years we’ve watched the Spaniards gather momentum and pretty much written off their passage to the final. Even when they lost their opening group game against Switzerland four years ago, few thought it was anything other than a momentary blip.
This year everyone looks beatable, and that is what makes it the most fascinating tournament in decades.
It is hard to imagine just how much pressure and expectation rests on the shoulders of the hosts right now. Failure simply isn’t an option.
I knew they were in for trouble against Chile when the camera panned in on the pre-kick-off huddle, and half the players seemed to have burst into tears. That’s never a good sign.
Now, talismanic striker Neymar looks to have taken a knock that puts his place in the quarter-final meeting with Colombia in doubt. They will miss midfield muscle Luis Gustavo just as much.
Colombia look as good if not better than Chile, who pushed Brazil all the way. So there could be a shock on the cards there.
Looking down the Brazilian line-up, the star quality of yesteryear just isn’t there.
Legendary sides of 1958, 1970, 1982 and 1998 had four or five players who could lay claim to being the best in the tournament.
Neymar has been brilliant in spells, the same can be said of Oscar, but the vulnerability at the back is scary and as for the supplementary strikers such as Fred and Hulk, well, let’s just say they have been average at best.
Worse still, the Chileans have mapped out a blueprint for anyone who wants to get a result against Brazil – press high and hassle mistakes out of a back four that look more dodgy with each passing minute on Saturday.
Argentina have a bit more depth, for me, but they haven’t exactly blown teams away in the group stages. And take Lionel Messi out of the goalscoring equation and they would be in serious trouble.
You’d be a brave man to stick your neck out and say anyone is going to win this tournament – but that’s why you can’t take your eyes off it.
Ilesy's TV heaven
ALAN Hansen barely disguising his contempt for Brazil’s sometime-striker Fred. “Even when he’s doing okay, his contribution is minimal.” And he’s right – how he gets in a team this good is beyond me.
Ilesy's TV hell
DRESS sense is not high on the agenda when ITV’s pundits venture outside to do broadcasts. From Ian Wright’s Panama hat and Lee Dixon’s polka dots to Adrian Chiles’ figure-hugging magenta polo shirt. My eyes!