Where to start? It was another epic thriller and the thought does occur that Brazil are in danger of wearing us all out if they continue scraping at everyone’s nerves this way. It is both enthralling and exhausting and now they must clear their heads and get ready to do it all over again. They are, to borrow the line from Luiz Felipe Scolari, two steps from heaven, and they absolutely refuse to do it the straightforward way.
They had to survive some dreadfully fraught moments after James Rodríguez had scored his 80th-minute penalty but, terrifying as it became, they deserve their place in Tuesday’s semi-final against Germany. Brazil had played in the first half in the way the world wants Brazil to play. They had to find other qualities in that edgy finale but the defining image will be of David Luiz’s victory run after a once-in-a-lifetime free-kick.
What a moment as well for Thiago Silva, scoring the opening goal after all the scrutiny surrounding his crying habits over the last few days. It ended as a bittersweet occasion for Silva, who will be suspended from the semi-final after one booking too many. There was also the disconcerting sight of Neymar being taken off on a stretcher after taking a knee to the back, but Silva was immense as the pressure strayed towards intolerable.
His goal arrived in the seventh minute and served as a reminder to Colombia that, however refined they might be, any team who defend this generously at this level cannot expect to get away with it. Neymar swung over a corner from the left and the first group of players leaping for the ball were all a few inches too short. Silva had anticipated what might happen and was making his way to the far post. Carlos Sánchez, the nearest opponent, did not react and Silva jutted out his knee to score from inside the six-yard area. And no, this time there was not even a quiver of the bottom lip.
The din when Brazil score is a rare noise: more an ambient scream than a guttural roar. The noise was still ringing in our ears when Juan Cuadrado’s deflected shot flew narrowly wide a few minutes later. Then Hulk had two decent chances in quick succession and already it was absolutely clear the occasion was going to be every bit as breathless, captivating and borderline hysterical as we could have dared to imagine.
David Luiz could be seen whipping up the crowd’s frenzy, hair bouncing, eyes boggling. The truth is the Estádio Castelão did not need any encouragement. When everything was going well it was a shrieking, whistling pit of yellow bias. When Colombia had the ball and Rodríguez was finding space, it was an anguished, plaintive howl. Put together, it made a rare and exhilarating combination of colour and noise. And then there was David Luiz, the footballer Gary Neville once described as being operated by a kid’s remote control, setting off on a 60-yard run, slaloming and kicking his way past opponents, and very nearly beating every single player who had the temerity to get in his way. José Mourinho would have substituted him. The Castelão roared its approval. It was bedlam.
Brazil will feel they had enough chances in the opening half to have soothed the crowd’s nerves. Hulk did just about everything but score. Maicon, preferred to Dani Alves as the attacking right-back, showed how daft it is for English audiences always to associate him with one miserable night against Gareth Bale. Oscar played with a licence to roam, rather than being permanently attached to the wing. Neymar, in the battle of the No10s, was more prominently involved than Rodríguez and Colombia would have been in serious trouble bar some desperate defending, some fine goalkeeping from David Ospina and the sometimes careless finishing of their opponents. Brazil looked like a side who had heard the criticisms of Careca and Cafu and various other former Seleção players and wanted anyone who had questioned their competitive courage to withdraw the accusation.
Fernandinho seemed too keen to spread the message at times, chopping down opponents with enough regularity to make it feel almost ludicrous that he managed to go the entire match without a booking.
They did not let their opponents settle and perhaps that was a significant factor in why Colombia struggled for so long to find the fluency of previous appearances. The heat was sapping and the tempo did eventually slow. Yet the game was still played at a remarkable, lung-splitting pace, albeit broken up too often by the referee’s whistle.
Carlos Carballo, the Spanish official, incensed Colombia with some decisions but Silva has only himself to blame for that moment, in the 64th minute, when he blocked Ospina from taking a quick kick and then stroked the loose ball into the net. The yellow card he picked up for his troubles was his second of the competition and that could hurt Brazil on Tuesday.
A few minutes later the Colombia captain, Mario Yepes, scuffed in a shot from a scramble only for the goal to be disallowed for an offside in the buildup. But then came the moment when the pressure was released. Rodríguez had fouled Hulk and David Luiz struck the free-kick like someone kicking an inflatable ball on a windy beach. The ball lurched and swerved through the air and then suddenly dipped beneath the crossbar and the most expensive defender on the planet was off, sprinting to the corner flag, veins bulging.
Rodríguez’s sixth goal of the tournament, after Júlio César had brought down the substitute Carlos Bacca, changed the complexion again. No one, however, should question Brazil’s nerve now.