Júlio César is being heralded as Brazil’s saving grace…
The 34-year-old Brazilian footballer, the national team’s goalkeeper, emerged as Brazil’s hero on Saturday after Brazil squeaked past Chile 3-2 in a penalty shootout to advance to the FIFA World Cup quarterfinals.
After the teams played to a 1-1 draw over 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of extra time at Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, César – a goalkeeper for Major League Soccer (MLS) club Toronto FC – stopped penalty kicks by Mauricio Pinilla and Alexis Sanchez. The match then ended when Gonzalo Jara’s blast clanked off the post.
Brazil’s shootout goals came from David Luiz, Marcelo and finally Neymar, who calmly fired a strike into the left part of the goal after first trying to gauge where Chilean goalkeeper Claudio Bravo would be moving.
The match was played on even terms until the 18th minute, when David Luiz scored from just a few feet away from the goal line after Thiago Silva headed the ball his way following a corner kick.
It initially appeared that the ball had gone in the net off Jara’s foot.
Chile got the equalizer in the 32nd minute when Eduardo Vargas took advantage of a Brazilian defensive blunder and centered the ball to Alexis Sanchez, who fired a perfectly placed strike past a diving César.
Brazil then had a couple of chances before halftime, but a header by Neymar was deflected away by Jara and then a blast off the foot of Fred sailed over the crossbar.
In the 54th minute, Hulk appeared to score the go-ahead goal when he received a cross and fired a shot past Bravo. But English referee Howard Webb waived it off and gave the forward a yellow card, ruling that he had lowered the ball with his arm.
Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari then sent on Jo and Ramires to replace Fred and Fernandinho, respectively, but they were unable to provide the creative spark needed to break down Chile’s resistance.
Bravo’s heroics also were key to keeping the match tied, as he stopped a header from Neymar and a powerful strike from Hulk before the end of the second half.
In extra time, Brazil dominated ball possession but had no answer for Chile’s all-out defensive tactics.
La Roja also proved dangerous with the few chances it had, with Pinilla blasting a shot off the crossbar shortly before the end of extra time.
With the win, the Brazilians, who are seeking their sixth World Cup title, advance to a quarterfinal match on July 4 against Colombia, which defeated Uruguay 2-0.