World Cup blog: South Americans vying for last eight place

After 48 group stage matches, the race for World Cup success intensifies as the knockout stages begin with two ties between sides from South America, and Stephen Donovan believes they are both tough to call.

The second round of the World Cup gets underway on Saturday with two eagerly awaited all South American encounters, with Brazil taking on Chile in Belo Horizonte before Colombia face Uruguay at the Maracana, with the two winners to meet in the quarter-finals.

The opening game of the knockout stages is undoubtedly one of the most intriguing, but history is not on the side of Chile going into their clash with the hosts, who have lost just one of their last 16 meetings. This time, however, Jorge Sampaoli’s side cannot be taken lightly, as their vibrant style of football has caught the eye so far in this tournament. That all the pressure will be on Brazil will also work in the Chileans’ favour.

Despite losing 2-0, they controlled long spells of the game against the Netherlands, in what was effectively a shootout for top spot in Group B. Sampaoli will be concerned after their defence was exposed as a weak point towards the end of the match, but at the same time he will feel that the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas have the quality to hurt the Brazilians.

Neymar has led the way for Brazil

The five-times winners have not quite been at their best thus far, and they have had to rely heavily on the talismanic Neymar for inspiration, with the Barcelona star jointly holding the lead in the race for the Golden Boot. His two goals rescued Brazil against Croatia in the opening match, before he doubled his tally for tournament against Cameroon on Monday. Neymar will need to be firing again for Brazil to come through this particular test.

Colombia are also a team that has emerged in recent years, and they will fancy their chances even more against Uruguay, with Luis Suarez having been banned for four months for appearing to bite Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini. It is an incident that has sadly overshadowed this match, with Uruguay’s elimination of the four-time World champions has been rendered a mere footnote.

Jose Pekerman’s men have been among the more impressive sides of the World Cup so far, and are capable of giving anyone a difficult game. Even with star man Radamel Falcao, they look a force to be reckoned with in attack, with the form of unheralded striker James Rodriguez keeping the more well-known faces of Jackson Martinez and Carlos Bacca out of the starting XI.

Uruguay, none too happy at the suspension handed out to Suarez, will have to make do with the prolific but less spectacular Edinson Cavani to lead their frontline, while veteran Diego Forlan could also force his way into the team. The midfield battle could also be crucial, meaning that the performance of the tenacious Arevalo Rios could be a major factor of deciding the outcome.

Whatever happens, the world is likely to see two closely fought encounters on Saturday, and no shortage of attack-mindedness from all four of the sides involved, as they look to show why South American has gained so much success in the tournament so far. Do not be surprised if at least one of these games goes right the way to penalties.

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