World Cup: Brazil hails Cesar after crucial saves

World Cup hosts set for quarter-final showdown against inspired Colombia.

Muslera is beaten by a shot from Colombia’s James Rodriguez at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro yesterday. Photo / AP
Muslera is beaten by a shot from Colombia’s James Rodriguez at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro yesterday. Photo / AP

Neymar pointed his right index finger in the air and then formed the shape of a heart with his thumbs and fingers loftily raised above his head.

The 22-year-old striker had just slotted the winning penalty as Brazil beat Chile 3-2 in a dramatic shootout after the score was locked 1-1 at the end of extra time, setting the World Cup hosts on course for a showdown against a James Rodriguez-inspired Colombia lineup that beat Uruguay 2-0 later yesterday to reach the quarter-finals for the first time.

As Chile's last penalty hit the post, it seemed as though the population of Brazil breathed a collective sigh of relief.

While it was a heart-stopper for Brazil, it was a heartbreaker for Chile, which created plenty of chances to force an upset win - none closer than Mauricio Pinilla's powerful shot into the crossbar in the last moments of extra time. David Luiz for Brazil and Alexis Sanchez for Chile scored first-half goals.

Shops were closed and usually busy roads were quiet as the country of almost 200 million urged its revered Selecao to victory and ever closer to a sixth World Cup title. "There are only three steps left and I still want to be back here to give another interview, with Brazil partying," Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar said after his player-of-the-match performance, including two crucial saves at the start of the shootout that ensured some redemption for a costly error in South Africa four years ago. First things first. Brazil next face a Colombia team that have won all four of their matches so far and are being led by the increasingly confident playmaker Rodriguez, who scored once in each half against Uruguay - which were missing their star striker Luis Suarez - to lift his tournament tally to five goals.

Suarez was banished from the World Cup for biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini in the 1-0 group-stage win that secured Uruguay's place in the knockout rounds.

Diego Forlan started in place of Suarez but couldn't reproduce anything like the form that earned him the 2010 World Cup player of the tournament award.

Two early contenders for that accolade in 2014 underlined their importance to their teams and set up an intriguing showdown at Fortaleza on Friday. Baby-faced Rodriguez has played with maturity beyond his 22 years to fill the void left by injured striker Radamel Falcao, not just creating opportunities but also converting them for Colombia.

Neymar is trying to live up to the hype in Brazil. He scored four goals in the group stage and, although he wasn't at his best against Chile, he found the net after his stuttering run-up to the penalty spot during the shootout. His kick gave Brazil a 3-2 buffer, proving decisive when Gonzalo Jara's final attempt for Chile hit the post, sparking raucous celebrations on the field and in the yellow-washed crowd in Belo Horizonte.

- AP

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