Can Brazil get revenge vs. Colombia in Copa América?

Colombia have already booked their place in the quarterfinals of the Copa América, and barring a mathematical disaster, Brazil will also be in the last eight. But that does not mean that Tuesday’s meeting of these two sides will be a glorified friendly. There is plenty at stake.

First there is the desire for an easier game in the next round. The winner of the group will almost certainly avoid Uruguay in the quarterfinals. Colombia will top Group D with a draw, while Brazil need to win.

Then, there is the rivalry that can sometimes creep into clashes between Brazil and Colombia. Ten years have passed since that World Cup quarterfinal in Fortaleza. It all ended in tears, with Neymar, the victim of a cruel foul, forced out of the competition. But it was Brazil who began the battle, with crude attempts to intimidate James Rodríguez, then the exploding wunderkind, now the wise old owl of the Colombia side. The match left a nasty taste in everyone’s mouths, and bitterness broke out in some of the subsequent meetings.

Probably most importantly, there is the struggle for prestige and for supremacy. Brazil coach Dorival Junior paid tribute to the rapid rise of the current Colombia side, and put them, together with Argentina and Uruguay, in the continent’s top three.

“Perhaps this is the first Copa América where we haven’t gone in as favorites,” he said. “That’s the reality. We have to face up to the recent results.”

But as he is well aware, the pecking order goes back to normal if Brazil emerge with the trophy on July 14.

Prestige, he said, “will be recuperated with the work we’re doing.”

On Tuesday in Santa Clara, he will want to clarify that Brazil’s wobble has come to an end. His task, then, is to beat a side who have not lost since going down to Argentina on Feb. 1, 2022. Colombia ended their failed bid to get to Qatar with two unbeaten matches, played one under a caretaker coach — and the subsequent 22 (17 wins and five draws) under Nestor Lorenzo.

The long unbeaten run is no coincidence. Colombia show the hallmarks of a well-coached side. As a collective unit, they know when and where on the field to press the opposition — either dropping deep with the defensive and midfield lines close together, or hunting as a pack higher up the field.

In possession, they can work the short passing style so familiar to traditional fans of Colombian football. But they can also go long and direct. The main target is Liverpool‘s Luis Díaz on the left. And the introduction of Jhon Cordoba for Friday’s 3-0 win over Costa Rica gave them another athletic target to use on the other side of the field, stretching the opposing defence and creating space for the passes of Rodríguez.

A decade on from his World Cup breakthrough, Colombia’s No. 10 will have a point to prove on Tuesday. Rodríguez has been based in Brazil for almost a year, but a succession of coaches at Sao Paulo have found little use for him. A forgotten man, he has played 10 minutes of club football in the past 10 weeks.

With the national team, though, he is vital to the cause. Lorenzo has built a structure that in an otherwise highly-structured side allows Rodríguez to roam, to find pockets of space that he can use as a base for his range of passing. The precision of his set pieces is also important. Colombia can struggle for goals — they missed out on Qatar after an astonishing run of seven games without scoring. They lack a top class center-forward. But they are a physically imposing team who carry an aerial threat. Rodríguez is a supply line from free kicks and corners, as well as in open play.

Díaz was the hero when the sides last met. Back in November, just a few days after his father had been released by kidnappers, Díaz celebrated in Barranquilla, the city where his career began, scoring both goals in Colombia’s 2-1 win, their first ever over Brazil in World Cup qualification.

Then trained by Fernando Diniz, Brazil were a rabble, and Colombia pummelled them for most of the night. But Brazil took an early lead, and there were times during the rest of the match when, against the run of play, they had further chances.

The speed and talent of the Brazil wingers caused plenty of problems — and will surely do so again on Tuesday. Colombia right-back Daniel Muñoz is quick. But he is not the greatest natural defender, and he will need help to rein in a rampant Vinícius Júnior. Colombia left-back Johan Mojica, meanwhile, has had problems in the past with Brazil’s Raphinha. Mojica is relatively tall for the position, and can be caught off balance.

There could be a case for the recall of Deiver Machado at left-back, a more lithe figure who missed much of last season through injury. But whoever plays will be in for a testing night against Raphinha or Sávio.

Everyone on the field in Santa Clara is in for a testing night. So far in the Copa, Brazil and Colombia have each faced Paraguay and Costa Rica. They will find each other a significant jump in quality. There will be plenty of healthy competition in the stands, between Colombia’s devoted traveling fans and Brazil’s mass of supporters. And the group phase of the Copa should come to a memorable climax on the California grass.