Two hundred million citizens of Brazil, minus the few dozen or so not interested in soccer, held their breath. Many had assumed their national team, which had not lost a meaningful home match since 1975, was preordained to win the World Cup. Now, in the round of 16, the hosts were sweating out a penalty kicks shootout -- 15 days before the gold-medal game.
When the last of 10 tries, by Chile's Gonzalo Jara, clanged off the post and harmlessly away, the collective exhale turned the country into one giant wind turbine. Brazil had escaped 3-2 on penalty kicks after being hauled into the shootout by a 1-1 draw.
Goalkeeper Julio Cesar, who had reacted tardily on Chile's goal in regulation, turned aside two penalty kicks and permitted two others before Jara's miss. Cesar's teammates made it difficult for him as late substitute Willian's try was wide and Hulk missed. On Brazil's last at-bat, the jitterbugging Neymar outfoxed keeper Claudio Bravo to make it 3-2 and Jara, a defender whose skill set does not include scoring, brought Chile's mega-upset bid to a devastating end.
For all of its flash and dash, with periodic attacks at warp speed, Brazil was fortunate to reach the penalty kick stage.
Chile matched Brazil's frenetic pace until mostly operating on fumes during the half-hour overtime period.
Way back in the first half, they had pulled even courtesy of an absent-minded back pass by Hulk on a throw-in so near the goal line that the Chileans had to cover minimal ground. Eduardo Vargas intercepted and dished to Alexis Sanchez for the goal before Brazil's befuddled defense could recover from the turnover.
Just before halftime, more carelessness nearly gave Chile another gift goal. Luis Gustavo's casual pass was picked off, resulting in a chaotic scene in the goal mouth that did not compound the damage to Brazil.
Brazil's lone score unfolded from a corner kick from Neymar that Thiago Silva headed toward the far post. The ball found the net off someone's leg, either that of Brazil's David Luiz or Jara. What could have been judged an own goal instead went to Luiz, his first in 40 international matches.
Neymar, Brazil's prodigal forward, was mesmerizing early: Take your eyes off him at your own risk.
When he was not getting banged up, once on a flying head-over-heels tumble, Neymar was constantly creating chances. An uncanny feed to Fred should have been cashed in.
As Neymar tired, Hulk took the reins and seemed to make amends by sneaking past Chile's back line for a contested second-half shot into the net. The pass had landed in the crook between his shoulder and upper arm. Referee Howard Webb, a target of pre-game lobbying by the Chilean camp concerned about biased officiating toward the home team, consulted with his assistant on the sideline and waved off the goal.
Brazil ceded control to Chile for much of the second half before recharging for the final 15 minutes. Neymar and Hulk missed tantalizing chances.
Chile, apparently content to roll the dice with penalty kicks, almost ended it in stunning fashion at the shank of the overtime. Mauricio Pinilla, who later missed a PK, rattled a rocket off the crossbar.
The match, bogged down by 51 fouls that led to the issuance of seven yellow cards, was no beauty. But 200 million out-of-breath Brazilians will take the result.
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