This Friday in Fortaleza, the match between Brazil and Colombia, will be historic. Either by the hosts moving to the semifinals, for the first time since 2002, keeping the pursue of their sixth World Cup alive, or by Colombia making their first appearance within the final four in a World Cup in their history.
On one hand, Brazil is the well-known “jogo bonito”-always a favorite for title- team. But this version of the verde-amarela plays very far from their usual style of dribbling, quick passing and technically gifted players. This Brazilian side, under Scolari, is closer to a Brazilian version of European football. They work as a 6-man block on the back ( four defenders plus two holding midfielders) and letting the remaining four players (Hulk, Oscar and Neymar behind Fred) counter-attack almost as a separate unit upfront with overlapping contributions from the full-backs.
Also, unlike previous versions of Brazil, the lack of the accustomed “star-level” players within the squad, is self-evident, there is only one: Neymar. His consistency for Brazil -35 goals in 53 caps- makes Brazil extremely dependent on his attacking magic to surprise opposing teams. That over-reliance on the young star, makes this Brazilian squad a one dimensional team, which is fine as long as your star produce and you are in front, but it also makes a more difficult task getting back into a game if the team is behind and Neymar is no where to be found.
Colombia, on the other hand, has stolen a page from the book of Brazilian trickery and have been the most entertaining team to watch this far. Dribbling, passing, and constant movement from their attacking midfielders (James and Cuadrado) with support from speedy full-backs (Zuñiga and Armero), and pivot movements from their strikers (Gutierrez and Martinez) plus solid central defense (Yepes CB, Zapata CB, Sanchez DM and Ospina GK) have this Colombian team moving further and further into the World Cup. Unlike Brazil, this Colombian team has more than one player that can provide magic to break defenses, in the feet of Cuadrado, Ibarbo, Quintero -from the bench- and James.
This last player, James Rodriguez, has been nothing short of sensational. Scoring in every match in almost every way possible. From the precise header over Didier Drogba, in Colombia’s win over Ivory Coast, to the spectacular volley against Uruguay in the last game. So far, with my apologies to the goalkeepers (Ochoa, Neurer and Howard) James has provided the best performance of the tournament.
Therefore, this Friday we should expect something unusual as the quarterfinals are played. Instead of Brazil making us dream with their “Jogo Bonito”, Scolari’s team will be pressing high up the pitch right from the start, in order to prevent Colombia getting into any kind of rhythm with Paulinho and Fernandinho in the middle of the pitch (due to L. Gustavo suspension) tackling everything that moves.
And if Scolari adheres to his words on the local media, where he insinuated that a return to the 3-5-2 that he used in 2002 is possible, we will probably see Maicon instead of Alves to form the back three along side D.Luiz and T. Silva and Marcelo moving to a more advanced position in the midfield. The good thing about that change in formation for Brazil will be that with so many people on the middle of the pitch it will be very difficult for Colombia to move forward in numbers, and with the spare man at the back there should always be someone to protect against any Colombian through balls.
However, since Colombia is probably also going to play with five men in the middle, going back to a more conservative formation of 4-5-1 (used on the first “must”game of Colombia’s World Cup campaign, vs. Greece), there will not be any space to move forward easily for Brazil either. Resulting in a hard fought tactical war in the middle with very little risks being taken by either team. Thus, prepare for a long, boring quarterfinal, in which Brazil will rely on counter-attacking football and set pieces to win the match, while throwing a wrench into any kind of passing, open game that Colombia tries to establish.
And look for the Colombian team to be patiently wait for the space behind Marcelo and Whoever plays on the other flank, to open up. Do not expect anything-else, because with this brazil team the entertainment is optional, the result it all that matters. Still, keep your fingers crossed that if FIFA does not interfere (via referee) the magical Colombians might give us a surprise and a night to tell our grand-children about.
PS: So far this has been a high scoring tournament, with Klose equaling Ronaldo on the all time World Cup scoring tally and tomorrow he will probably have a chance to surpass him against France. But even if Klose breaks the record, he will never be in the same level as Ronaldo once was. Do not take my word for it, look up any Ronaldo (the original not the cyborg CR7) compilation from youtube and you will understand.
Last, may the best team (Colombia) win.