The knockout rounds are usually the time when somebody pops up with the well-worn maxim that “tournament experience counts”, and that no one has a World Cup pedigree quite like Brazil. Five-time champions, host nation, an unbeaten home record stretching all the way back to 1975… we get it, Brazil are favourites.
Their status has been further elevated by the fact that their 22-year-old wunderkind seems genuinely unconcerned by the monumental pressure crushing down on his bleach-topped locks. Neymar’s performance against Cameroon was beauty borne of exigency: no one else in the team could settle the anxious Brasilia crowd, so Neymar took it upon himself with an effortless combination of flighty tricks, dips, and two sharp strikes.
“There is no pressure,” he said after the game. “I’ve always said that there is no pressure when you are making a dream come true, something that you sought since you were a kid.” From anyone else it would sounds like a script from a trainer advert. When it comes from Neymar, somehow it’s almost believable.
But we haven’t yet factored in Chile. They may not have won against Brazil since a World Cup qualifier in 2000, or advanced past the second round since 1962, but this is a different team to past also-rans.
Neymar’s club teammate Alexis Sanchez leads a side who can press with the force of the Amazon. Few teams in this tournament can match them for attacking conditioning. Brazil-based players like Jorge Valdivia have seen first-hand the expectation and anticipation heaped upon their opposition. If they can keep the Brazilians chasing them – and stop them cutting into their uncertain back four – anything is possible.