Hosts Brazil and fellow South Americans Chile will be kicking off the knock-out stage of the 2014 World Cup in Belo Horizonte with the Selecao being the favorites to qualify to the quarter-finals. However, La Roja will prove to be a tough opponent to beat as Head Coach Jorge Sampaoli promised to set his team on the offensive from the word go.
Brazil Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has largely stuck to the same starting eleven throughout the group stage so not many changes, if any, are to be expected in today’s line-up. The trio of Hulk, Oscar and joint top-scorer Neymar will occupy the forward positions behind Fred, who has had quite an underwhelming tournament so far, in a 4-2-3-1 formation. No surprises are expected in defense with David Luiz likely to shake off a back complaint. In central midfield, Manchester City Fernandinho has impressed every time he came off the bench and may replace the disappointing Paulinho alongside water carrier Luis Gustavo.
Sampaoli will probably once more stick to a three-man defense that has been so effective for Chile ever since Macelo Bielsa took over La Roja in 2007. The current head coach has built on the ultra-offensive 3-3-1-3 deployed by Bielsa in his time and a more conservative, but still exciting to watch, 3-4-1-2 is now the norm. Against Spain and the Netherlands, a defensive trio of Gonzalo Jara, Francisco Silva and Cardiff City’s Gary Medel provided protection for goalkeeper and skipper Claudio Bravo. None of those three is really a centre back by trait but they proved to be very useful in starting attacks from defense.
Wingbacks Mauricio Isla and Eugenio Mena are expected to start and will have their hands full in trying to nullify threats from Brazil’s own wingbacks, Marcelo and Dani Alves, as well as their forward players. Arturo Vidal, who is arguably the most complete midfielder in world football right now, will be handed a roaming position behind forwards Eduardo Vargas and the Barcelona star Alexis Sanchez. The latter two are not your traditional out-and-out strikers but their pace and constant change in positioning may prove to be a nightmare to Thiago Silva and company.
In a match that has all the ingredients to be a feisty, thrilling encounter, expect the creative nous of players such as Neymar, Oscar and Vidal to light up the Estadio Mineirao. With a huge crowd to cheers them on, Brazil may just nick in a victory.