Hosts Brazil and Europe’s biggest remaining team Germany set up an epic-looking World Cup semi-final for next week with deserved victories on Friday over Colombia and France respectively.
Five-times champions Brazil won a frenetic match in Fortaleza 2-1 to end Colombia’s dream run to their first quarter-final, while France succumbed 1-0 to their old nemesis Germany in a more subdued affair in Rio de Janeiro.
Brazil and Germany will now meet in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday in a clash of styles and continents that is sure to excite fans around the world.
In a passionate and physical game from start to finish, Brazil captain Thiago Silva bundled in Neymar’s corner with his waist after seven minutes to settle his nervy team mates.
Then a pumped-up David Luiz scored with a sublime 69th minute free kick to put Brazil two goals ahead.
Colombia’s man-of-the-moment James Rodriguez pulled his side back into the match from the penalty spot, and got his sixth goal of the tournament, with just over 10 minutes remaining.
But Brazil’s passion and will saw them hold firm.
“It was a great match, both teams played beautiful football,” said the emotional Luiz, who prayed on the pitch and hugged Rodriguez in consolation at the end.
“It will be a big game (against Germany), a classic in world terms, and it will be very hard.”
Rodriguez, the target of rough treatment from the Brazilians, wept distraughtly at the end. But he will long be remembered as one of the great players of this World Cup.
“We wanted to carry on, but we hold our heads high. Thank you Colombia,” he said. “We’re sad but we also have to feel proud because we left our skins out there.”
Predictably, Brazil came to a standstill during the game, with businesses closed and cans rattling in empty streets as locals packed into homes, bars and beachside fanzones.
The final whistle signalled a cacophony of parties, fireworks and celebrations in a nation whose people believe they are destined to win a sixth World Cup on home soil.
The joy, though, was tempered by worries over Neymar, who was carried off on a stretcher after being kneed in the back, and the suspension of Thiago Silva for the Germany game after a yellow card for a needless foul on goalkeeper David Ospina.
Brazil shocked, angered by Neymar’s World Cup injury
Neymar’s exit from the World Cup due to a back injury left Brazilians shocked and angered on Friday, darkening the mood after the hosts’ 2-1 win over Colombia in the quarter-finals had sparked nationwide celebrations.
The loss of their star player has dented Brazil’s chances of winning a record-extending sixth World Cup, and first on home soil, and left Brazilians wondering who can replace him for Tuesday’s semi-final showdown with Germany.