SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilians rejoiced on Saturday when their nervy team edged past Chile to book a place in the World Cup quarter-finals in a nail-biting penalty shootout, while in the other last 16 game, James Rodriguez scored a stunning volley as Colombia downed Uruguay.
It will be Colombia’s first appearance in the last eight, and two goals from Rodriguez, including a spectacular left foot strike from 20 metres, put him ahead of Lionel Messi, Thomas Mueller and Neymar as the tournament’s top scorer with five.
Uruguay’s exit ended a sorry week for the South Americans, who badly missed their prolific forward Luis Suarez after he was kicked out of the World Cup for biting and banned from any football activity for four months.
For the hosts, it was an afternoon of excruciating tension in Belo Horizonte, where the teams drew 1-1 after extra time before Brazil won the penalty shootout 3-2.
The win leaves them three games away from lifting the World Cup for a sixth time and exorcising the ghosts of defeat in the 1950 final on home soil.
“We took upon ourselves this mission that we must be champions. If you make a promise you must deliver. This is what the players are doing,” said coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. “There are three more (games) to see if we can reach heaven.”
The celebrations on the pitch and across the country were more in relief than jubilation, after a pulsating match in which both sides attacked at pace but failed to convert their chances once Chile striker Alexis Sanchez had cancelled out David Luiz’s opener in the 32nd minute.
Brazil’s players cried for joy after Gonzalo Jara’s spot kick bounced back off the upright to send them through after keeper Julio Cesar had saved two shootout penalties.
“Four years ago I gave an interview, very upset, very sad,” said Julio Cesar, referring to Brazil’s quarter-final exit to the Netherlands at the 2010 World Cup.
“I will repeat it again, but this time I am happy,” added the man of the match, struggling to keep his emotions in check.
“Only God knows, and my family, what I went through. My team mates gave me support and strength. My big dream is that Brazil have a party.”
Only lifting the trophy in Rio de Janeiro on July 13 will be enough to satisfy Brazil’s expectant fans, and they next face Colombia, who beat Uruguay 2-0 in another Latin American clash that underlines the region’s domination of the tournament.
For Chile, the team’s tears were shed in the despair of going out for a fourth time to their World Cup nemesis, especially when the margin between victory and defeat had been so narrow.
In the final minute of extra time, Chile’s Mauricio Pinilla rattled the crossbar with a fierce shot, but Julio Cesar saved spot-kicks from Pinilla and Alexis before Jara missed and the hosts went through.
The knowledge that they matched Brazil over 120 minutes of high-paced, if not always fluent, football will do little to ease the pain for Chile.
“We played Spain, the Netherlands and Brazil, and we were no worse than any of them,” said keeper and captain Claudio Bravo.
“We feel very frustrated because we could have wrapped the match up long before. We had clear chances to wrap it. What else can we say now?”
At Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium, Colombia secured an altogether more comfortable passage to their first World Cup quarter-final by overcoming Uruguay, whose star striker Suarez had been sent home for biting an Italian opponent.
The first goal was sublime, as Rodriguez chested a pass into the air and smashed home a volley that rattled the underside of the bar before crossing the line. His second was swept in from close range after a flowing, attacking raid.
The 22-year-old has scored in all four of Colombia’s games so far and is the tournament’s top scorer, and Brazil must find a way to stop him if they are to get past a gifted, confident side when the teams meet in Fortaleza on July 4.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez was full of praise for one of the surprise individuals of the World Cup.
“It is not up to me to say, but I believe from what I have seen that he is the best player in the World Cup,” Tabarez said. “I am not exaggerating, he is a great striker.”
Uruguay’s reliance on Suarez was underlined once again when they failed to take any of their chances in the second half.
FIFA’s decision to ban him for nine competitive international games and from any football activity for four months has overshadowed the World Cup in recent days, and was considered by many people to be excessive.
Before the Colombia game, Suarez posted a message on social media in his first comments since the ban was announced.
“I‘m writing to say thanks for all the expressions of support and affection that I‘m receiving,” he said. “Both I and my family are very grateful. Thanks for being on my side.”
An internal FIFA document seen by Reuters on Saturday said that soccer’s world governing body handed out the heavy punishment because Suarez showed no remorse for the incident and previous bans had not changed his behaviour.
He had twice been banned for biting before.
The FIFA document included excerpts of Suarez’s explanation of the event, in which he said his initial contact with Giorgio Chiellini caused him to lose balance and fall on the Italian.
“Then, my face hit the player, leaving me with a bruise and a lot of pain in my teeth... That is what happened and at no point did anything happen that can be described as ‘biting’ or trying to bite,” Suarez was quoted as saying.
On Sunday, the Netherlands take on Mexico in Fortaleza while Costa Rica meet Greece in Recife.
Editing by Ken Ferris and Justin Palmer