BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP) — Once the elation of victory and the hangovers wear off, Brazil should feel the cold shiver of World Cup disaster narrowly averted.
The shootout penalty win against Chile exposed the Selecao's flaws but also its lion heart. The question now is whether that strength will be enough to paper over those weaknesses.
The abridged version of this furiously paced, draining, and high-stakes match of wind-up tension that carried Brazil to the quarterfinal will read: aging goalkeeper on the backend of an impressive career prevents the World Cup host from tumbling into the abyss.
The consequences had Julio Cesar not become hero of the hour are almost too frightening to contemplate: national depression, certainly; perhaps riots, too, as the truth sunk in for Brazilians that they wouldn't win the World Cup they are paying billions for, to the fury of many of them.
Little wonder that one of the first to offer congratulations was Dilma Rousseff. In this nation of 200 million people, there cannot have been many futebol fans more relieved than the Brazilian president whose own political fortunes are in no small measure tied to the success or otherwise of the national team.
"Thank you, players" read a message on her Twitter feed.
Cesar's two penalty saves and two Chilean shots off his woodwork put the "what if Brazil loses?" question back on ice. But only for now.
So much about this victory suggested the World Cup will find out the answer to that question before the final and that the July 13 championship game most likely won't have the five-time world champions in it.
"Perhaps next time we won't be as lucky," said Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.
Cancel out Neymar — as Chile, exhaustion and the effects of a heavy first-half tackle did in the second half and 30 goalless minutes of extra time — and Brazil loses its teeth.
That was one key takeaway from Belo Horizonte. Another was that Brazil is short a match-winning center-forward. Fred, ineffective again, certainly doesn't look the part, skying a first-half chance over the bar when he only had the Chile captain and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo to beat.
More fundamental for Brazil is that Fred was slow to anticipate, keep pace with or link up with Neymar's electric-eel attacks. Jo came on for Fred when Scolari lost patience after 64 minutes, but he also doesn't look like the answer to the need for goals from more players than Neymar — who has four of Brazil's eight so far but didn't score on Saturday.
Defensively, Brazil is impressive. The pairing of Thiago Silva and David Luiz is now undefeated in 17 games that Scolari has started them together. Successive generations of thrilling forward players from Brazil have tended to overshadow some of its great defenders.
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