Brazil secured a dramatic penalty shootout win against Chile to reach the last eight and set up an all-South American quarter-final against Colombia. Goalkeeper Julio Cesar was the hero, making two crucial spot-kick saves, to thwart a relentless Chile side who were denied victory themselves by the woodwork late in an enthralling game.
That the hosts came close to making an unexpected exit in Belo Horizonte had a nation of more than 200m people holding its breath.
Cesar, who made just one appearance for Queens Park Rangers last season and went on loan to FC Toronto, redeemed an error he made which cost Brazil dear in the quarter-finals against Netherlands in 2010.
He saved from Mauricio Pinilla and Alexis Sanchez as Brazil went on to win a tense shootout 3-2.
Gonzalo Jara hit a post with the decisive spot-kick to prompt wild celebrations inside the Estadio Mineirao – and across the rest of this football-mad nation.
David Luiz and Marcelo had converted their efforts for Brazil, but with Willian and Hulk missing, it fell to the hosts’ star striker Neymar to step up under intense pressure and calmly slot home what proved the winning kick.
Luiz had earlier put the hosts in front, only for Alexis Sanchez to equalise. Hulk then had a strike disallowed for handball by English referee Howard Webb – fairly, but much to the anger of the home fans.
Pinilla also hit the crossbar for Chile in the final minute of extra time.
A high-tempo and high-quality first half, was followed by a poor second period which always suggested extra time might follow.
And what drama the penalty shootout produced. Brazil’s fans roared with relief while Chile were defeated, yet with their reputation as one of the game’s most dangerous sides significantly enhanced.
Having never lost to La Roja on home soil and having beaten them on allthree of their previous World Cup meetings, Brazil arrived with history on their side.
Chile earned a 2-2 draw at the same venue last year but that was one of only two encounters in which they avoided defeat since last beating Brazil 14 years ago.
The noise in the stadium before before kick-off was astonishing, swathes of yellow dominating the pockets of red, and the atmosphere only intensified when Fernandinho went in late on Charles Aranguiz, and the Chile midfielder and team-mate Gary Medel responded in kind by wiping out Neymar.