The hosts and dark horses Colombia go head-to-head in Fortaleza on Friday, as they battle for a place in the final four of the World Cup.
We look at the three key men Luiz Felipe Scolari and Jose Pekerman will rely on in the quarter-final and what each must do to ensure it is their team in the semi.
Captain fantastic for the host-nation. The 29-year-old is a rock at the back for an otherwise shaky Brazilian defence. While David Luiz and Dani Alves have been prone to jump ship when it comes to defensive duties, the PSG skipper is able to fully compensate for his team-mates’ deficiencies, oozing class and composure all the while. Thiago Silva has been able to calm the titanic vessel that is Brazilian expectation so far, but with the sea getting rougher and the boat having more holes than previously thought, Brazil are depending more and more on their captain for safe passage.
World Cup 2014: 10 stars who have shone during the World Cup in Brazil
World Cup 2014: 10 stars who have shone during the World Cup in Brazil
1/10 James Rodriguez
The player who has most seized this World Cup, and thereby most seized attention. James might have been a marvellous talent on the radar of top clubs before this tournament, and the £38m Monaco paid last summer reflected his potential, but the 22-year-old has simply moved onto a different level. It is quite a quirk that Manchester United could have got him for £5m back in 2010, because he could command anything up to £80m now. Real Madrid are believed to be leading the chase. Rodriguez has set quite a pace.
2/10 Guillermo Ochoa
Was his display against Brazil the outstanding performance of the first round? Given the stakes, the pressure, and the extent of the siege, there is certainly an argument for it. Either way, there seems little argument that Ochoa has been the outstanding goalkeeper of the tournament so far. The sheer number of high-profile high-quality saves that the 28-year-old produced are in stark contrast to what has been a humble club career, having spent three years at lowly Ajaccio. Last season, they got relegated to Ligue 2. This summer, he should have earned a move to a better level.
3/10 Alexis Sanchez
All of a sudden, it seems ludicrous that Barcelona would consider selling Alexis, let alone use him as a mere makeweight on a deal to bring someone else in. The Chilean may have been largely under-whelming in his three years at Camp Nou, but this World Cup re-asserted why they initially signed him, as well as what kind of player he can be when used correctly. The two goals against Spain and Brazil were a display of his elite finishing, the pace that brought them the kind of dynamic play top clubs crave.
4/10 Karim Benzema
On top of the world right now, but also someone that finds himself in a similar situation to Alexis: Real Madrid would gladly bring in what they perceive to be a better forward, but he has used this tournament to illustrate the folly of that. Benzema has been one of the best players of the first four games, combining clutch finishing with classy build-up play that has been central to France’s joyful resurgence as a world force again. He has also enjoyed his own resurgence. Benzema is finally looking like the devastating talent that Real first signed for so much money. He could command a similar figure again.
5/10 Vincent Enyeama
It was the 31-year-old goalkeeper’s error that ultimately cost Nigeria the last-16 game against France, but that was all the more conspicuous because he had been so solid before then. In fact, it was arguably Enyeama’s supreme late save against Bosnia and Herzegovina that brought Nigeria so far, given the ultimately slim margin with which they won that game 1-0 and then qualified. It was not the only such stop, and even the 2-0 defeat to France saw plenty of defiance. Lille can expect some interest.
6/10 Islam Slimani
Algeria were one of the most progressive teams of the opening four games, and Slimani their brightest player. Just turned 26, his career has shown a steady upward curve, moving from CR Belouizdad to Sporting Lisbon in 2013, and now making his ability all the more widely known. The two goals in four World Cup games also mark a superior scoring ratio to recent seasons, and the type of productivity he should be offering as he approaches his prime. Slimani looks ready for one of Europe’s primary leagues.
7/10 Daryl Janmaat
Beyond the three established stars of Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, it is Daryl Janmaat who almost personifies the youthful nature of this Netherlands team. He is 24, still based at home with Feyenoord, and is one of their many defenders that has impressed in this tournament with his maturity. Janmaat has arguably made himself the pick of them, especially for the solid consistency he has demonstrated throughout, as well as the way he allows a more counter-attacking Dutch side to turn defence into attack. It won’t be too long until he personifies this team in another way: moving abroad.
8/10 Miralem Pjanic
The Roma midfielder’s easy talent was widely known before this tournament, but perhaps the key is that he’s applied it in difficult circumstances. Out of a Bosnia and Herzegovina side that almost totally under-performed and went out in such disappointing fashion, Pjanic was one of a handful players – as well as Muhamed Besic – that played above his level. A host of top European clubs were interested in the 24-year-old before this World Cup. They will now have to pay even more than anticipated.
9/10 Bryan Ruiz
To think that this was a player Fulham have been all too happy to discard, banishing him on loan to PSV Eindhoven last season. Of course, much of that was the fault of Ruiz himself . He looked conspicuously lazy in a team full of languid attackers. That appears to have revitalised him. Ruiz has been the driving force of Costa Rica’s historic tournament. It was not just about the goals he scored that brought such momentous results against Italy and Greece. It is also about the touches and technique, as he’s now really doing what a player of his talent should. Fulham can surely earn a much higher price now.
10/10 Ricardo Rodriguez
With the way he surges forward from full-back, the 21-year-old has epitomised the adventurous and brave nature of this impressive Swiss team, and he has proven so productive in their energetic attacks. The exceptional Xherdan Shaqiri has particularly benefited from the space that Rodriguez spots and creates. That follows on from the nine assists he cleverly created for Wolsfburg last season. Having already spent two years in the Bundesliga after a move from Zurich, he has undoubtedly displayed that he is prepared for a higher level.
The speedy left back will have his work cut out as he takes on Juan Caudrado, the World Cup’s leading assist maker. After accidentally scoring the opening goal of the tournament when he turned Ivica Olic’s cross into his own net, Marcelo has raised his game with the side only conceding two goals since that mishap. He has also been potent going forward with his purposeful overlapping runs providing him with one assist in the competition so far.
The tricky striker has shown the likes of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo how to perform with the expectation of a nation on his shoulders. When things didn’t go according to the script in the opening game against Croatia, up stepped Neymar with a crucial double to send the whole of Brazil to away happy. Despite failing to break Mexico down he again dragged Brazil from trouble against Cameroon by scoring the goal that restored their lead, providing the cure for any nerves. It’s a lot to ask game after game for a 22-year old, but by the looks of it, he thrives on the pressure.
At 38 years of age Mario Yepes is the oldest outfield player in the World Cup and will retire when the competition draws to a close. You wouldn’t know it though, as the classy centre-back has kept two clean sheets in his three appearances this summer to silence early critics of Colombia’s defence. He has provided much needed experience to a young Colombian side and with him as the defensive anchor, players such as Juan Cuadrado and James Rodriguez have been able to fly.
Cuadrado has created more goals than any other player at the World Cup so far with an impressive four assists to his name. The Fiorentina winger also scored a crucial goal against Japan to bring his side level in a game Colombia went on to win 4-1. The 26-year-old’s string of notable performances has alerted the likes of Manchester United and Barcelona to his availability, but instead of thinking about joining Neymar, Dani Alves and co. at the Nou Camp he currently has his heat set on destroying them in their own back-yard.
The player of the tournament so far now faces his nearest contender. Rodriguez and Neymar will go head to head for glory in this all-South American clash. While the headlines were orbiting around the Brazilian number ten before the tournament began, James has since snatched them away, taking the competition to a whole other level in the process. With an unheralded five goals and two assists in four games, including a breath-taking volley which brushed aside Uruguay, Rodriguez has stolen the limelight from his opposite number. As previously mentioned, Neymar works best when he is the centre of attention, so the results of this encounter could be very interesting indeed.