Brazil show fight vs. Colombia, but will that cost them later?

Roared on by their devoted travelling fans, Colombia were the better side in Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with Brazil that brings the Copa America group phase to a close. The Selecao nearly snatched the win right at the end, when Andreas Pereira had a shot from the edge of the area athletically tipped over by keeper Camilo Vargas. But it would have been an injustice.

In the warmth of the Santa Clara sunshine, this was a match that was always going to generate plenty of heat along with moments of light. A rivalry has developed between these two sides that, in front of a packed house, was likely to spill over. Colombia took the field with their place in the quarterfinals guaranteed and, barring a mathematical miracle, so did Brazil. There was a clear case for taking a foot off the pedal and resting key player, especially those who were a yellow card away from a suspension.

It was a case that neither nation heeded. Both teams held nothing back and Colombia will go into their quarterfinal without key midfielder Jefferson Lerma. Brazil, though, came out of it worse. They will be without Vinícius Júnior. And, topping the group after the 1-1 draw, Colombia meet the Copa’s surprise side Panama. Brazil, meanwhile, are off to face the far more dangerous Uruguay. And, with the Brazil players having to put up with prolonged second half cries of “ole” from the Colombian fans as their team stroked the ball around the field, an obvious question comes to mind: Was it all worth it?

Uruguay have an extra day to rest before Saturday’s quarterfinal. In hindsight, might Brazil have been better advised to rest their most important players — especially those on a yellow card — and keep the gunpowder dry for Marcelo Bielsa’s Uruguay?

The bright side was that Brazil scored their first goal direct from a free kick since a strike by Phillippe Coutinho against South Korea in November 2019. And they very nearly had a second. After giving his side an early lead with a superb strike over the defensive wall, Raphinha nearly added a second after the interval, sending a cross shot just wide. And, predictably, he and Vinicius on the flanks caused plenty of problems for the Colombian full-backs. Vinicius was probably unfortunate not to win a penalty off Daniel Muñoz when the score was still 1-0, but there was not enough end product. There are moments when the lack of a genuine centre-forward is a problem. And credit must be given to the covering of the Colombian centre-backs, especially the much-maligned Davinson Sánchez, whose pace was important when Vinicius cut inside.

But Brazil’s main problem was in midfield. There was an understandable need to protect veteran right back Danilo against the fire and skill of Luis Díaz, and so João Gomes came across to help him. But this left James Rodríguez able to find too much space, and he roamed the field finding little pockets from which to dictate the play.

His set pieces were also a constant threat. He clipped the bar with an early free kick, crossed in for a Sanchez goal ruled out for a narrow offside and continually found a way to worry the Brazil defence. Colombia were wasting chances and already deserved to be level when Rodriguez helped set up the equaliser just before half-time, passing infield for John Cordoba to play the pivot role, turning and slipping Munoz to burst into space and poke past Alisson Becker.

Lucas Paquetá may have been at fault for not tracking the run, and he was withdrawn at the interval. But things worsened without him. His replacement Pereira found it hard to pick up the pace of the game, and, aside from that late shot, was barely noted. In the second half Brazil could not pass their way down the field, and Colombia took control. They should have taken the lead, the clearest chance coming when Diaz set up substitute Rafael Santos Borre, who shot over an open goal. Later in the competition — perhaps even in a semifinal against Brazil — Colombia may be punished for their problems turning chances into goals.

Brazil, meanwhile, will have to put up with criticism from their own media. In a game that they needed to win if they wished to avoid Uruguay, coach Dorival Junior waited until the 86th minute to introduce striker Endrick. And now, with aching limbs and probably a few extra doubts about their capacity to go all the way in this competition, they head to Arizona for a shootout with Uruguay.

A crumb of comfort. The bottom five in South America’s World Cup qualification table have all changed coaches since that competition got underway in September. After an astonishingly bad 2023, Brazil are among them. The other four — Paraguay, Chile, Bolívia and Peru — have shown no improvement. All have been eliminated from the Copa, with not a win between them and scarcely a goal. Brazil, though, are unbeaten and still in the hunt. They are going to have to climb Everest the hard way if they are to win this Copa, but at least amid the odd flash of talent against Colombia they showed plenty of fighting spirit.