Did Ronaldinho have a point? Ridiculous as it sounds — Ronaldinho will definitely celebrate with the Selecao if Brazil wins this year’s Copa America — Brazil has looked surprisingly mediocre over their past three games, and they look nothing like the world-conquering teams of the early 2000s. Despite dominating Costa Rica in both possession and chances, Brazil was woefully wasteful and had to settle for a draw. They made light work of Paraguay in a 4-1 win. But, they entered a blockbuster matchup against Colombia needing a win to claim first in their group. With their recent results, it wouldn’t be ridiculous to say claiming a win looked unlikely.

This Brazil team, despite the quality of its star players, has looked frustrated at times. They looked frustrated playing against Costa Rica’s back five, leaning on counter-attacking chances and long shots to try to make a difference. Neymar’s absence is evident throughout the whole squad — at times, this Brazil squad is lacking in creativity and flair. And, they’ve carried a burden on them. They’ve been searching for a title for nearly five years, and they are dealing with memories of heartbreak and the stifling expectations of the media. Although it wouldn’t silence the criticism, a positive result against an in-form Colombia could mute the questions.

Munoz equalizer puts Colombia up top

For a minute, it looked like Brazil would return to its world-beating selves. Their early opener came through Raphinha, whose first goal since September for Brazil came at a vital time. His banging effort was almost robotic. Set the ball—size up the wall. Take a few striding steps toward the ball. Strike it. Repeat. His curling, spinning effort steadily rose over the Colombian wall and dipped just enough to nestle itself in the top right corner. Raphinha celebrated the goal as if he had just won the World Cup, and rightfully. The strike would take Brazil to the top of the group and set them up for a quarterfinal match against Panama.

However, it seemed Brazil cracked under pressure, as it has several times throughout the Copa América. They were fortunate to escape an immediate equalizer after Davinson Sánchez’s headed goal off a James Rodriguez set-piece was chalked off due to off-sides.

And they looked brittle under duress. You could physically see the signs of tension and pressure on Brazil- the symptoms being thrown arms, weary eyes, and bursts of anger. Even while they held their lead and enjoyed the majority of possession, they still lashed out, prone to moments of frustration. Joao Gomes nearly instigated a bench-clearing brawl after smashing a ball into a grounded Colombia player. Vinicius found himself tangled up with James Rodriguez and clumsily swung his arm into James’ face, picking up a yellow that will mark him absent for their next game. He exploded at the referee after he was denied a clear penalty just before halftime, and he was stifled throughout the match by Colombia’s stringent defense. They always seemed on edge, anticipating the next controversy and the latest critical headline.

Colombia found its long-awaited equalizer thanks to the creativity of Jhon Cordoba. Receiving the ball with his back to the goal and fighting off pressure from Marquinhos, Cordoba initially settled the ball before slipping a perfect through-ball to left-back Daniel Munoz streaking behind the defense. One-on-one with Alisson, Munoz stabbed his shot just over the keeper into an open net to go back on top of the group.

Colombia nearly took the lead in the 83rd minute through the counter-attack. After dispossessing a Brazil midfielder midway up the pitch, Luis Diaz scampered onto a through-ball on the wing with options in the box. Diaz played an impressive ball across the face of the goal to Rafael Borre. But, Borre couldn’t get a clean hit on the ball, bouncing and twirling across the turf. His attempt rose just over the bar as an anguished Borre and relieved Alisson could only watch.

Brazil seals quarterfinals spot

Should Brazil be worried? Short answer, yes. After their barren 1-1 draw, they’ll travel to Vegas and face a Uruguay side that has scored nine goals and conceded one this tournament. They look dangerously close to their worst Copa America result since 2015, and a loss could put their entire rebuild under gaffer Dorival Junior in jeopardy.

Brazil looked off their game against Colombia, who also sat deep for most of the game. They struggled to circulate the ball through the midfield, meaning players like Vinicius and Rodrygo looked stranded throughout the match. Colombia’s deep block meant that Brazil couldn’t strike on the counter. With Bruno Guimaraes and Gomes, two defensive midfielders, tasked with progressing the ball and creating opportunities, Brazil struggled to break down Colombia’s low block. Their best opportunities came off dead-ball situations.

For a Brazil squad whose calling card has been their potent, flashy attack, this result was uncanny — unreal almost.

Brazil’s Saturday quarterfinal matchup against Uruguay will be a turning point in their progress leading up to the World Cup. This Copa America was supposed to be a breakout tournament for the nation’s younger generation. Gomes, Vinicius, Rodrygo, Endrick, and more weigh in as the team’s most important players despite their youth. However, they’ve all looked either inconsistent or unimpressive throughout the tournament. Set to be without Neymar and also a suspended Vinicius, their quarterfinal fixture will mark a turning point for Brazil. Can Brazil lean on their youth for their World Cup push? Or will Brazil have to go back to their aging stars?

As for Colombia, they can count themselves unlucky not to walk away with another win. Colombia hasn’t lost a match since March 2022, and they showed no signs of breaking that streak. Unlucky to see their first goal disallowed, Colombia equalized through a magical Rodriguez set-piece. Colombia stretched out Brazil’s defense through their wingers Rodriguez and Luis Diaz, and their chances frequently came down the flank. On a better day, they could have scored as many as three goals. They were the better team and can take pride in their performance, especially after sealing a favorable match against Panama.