Alexis Sanchez

Weekend Preview and Predictions

@0riginalfooty takes a look at the fixtures for the 19th round of Premier League football. On Boxing Day we got seven out of ten predictions right and three correct scores. Will we do better this week?

Sunday

Spurs vs Man United (12:00)
Spurs’ recent upturn in form means that if they win this match, they will be within two points of United. Having said that, their recent matches have been against relatively weak opposition so it may be too soon for their fans to get ahead of themselves. Louis van Gaal’s side overcame their blip against Aston Villa with an emphatic win over Newcastle on Boxing Day. This should be a good match but United look the stronger team and should have the edge.
Prediction: Spurs 1-2 Man United

Southampton vs Chelsea (14:05)
Southampton have returned to the top four after another good victory but they are yet to really dominate one of the league’s top sides. Chelsea were comfortable against West Ham until the last five minutes and they are a very strong team. Southampton will be competitive but it’s hard to predict against Chelsea at the moment.
Prediction: Southampton 1-2 Chelsea

Aston Villa vs Sunderland (15:00)
Villa may have lost two of their last three games but they were very unfortunate to lose in both those instances and Paul Lambert’s side have been on the receiving end of several poor refereeing decisions in recent weeks. Sunderland, meanwhile, let a home lead slip against struggling Hull and will be nervously looking over their shoulders again. Had they beaten Hull I would have backed The Black Cats to nick a draw but Villa are due a win and some good luck and they have a good record against their opponents.
Prediction: Aston Villa 3-1 Sunderland

Hull vs Leicester (15:00)
Hull’s fight-back may have saved Steve Bruce from increasing pressure and now gifts them an opportunity to catapult themselves towards safety with a win against bottom side Leicester. The Foxes are playing for Nigel Pearson’s job, in my opinion, and defeat here will condemn him to the sack. Back-to-back wins can utterly change a team’s standing in this league and Hull are about to demonstrate that.
Prediction: Hull 2-0 Leicester

Man City vs Burnley (15:00)
City are playing very well at the moment and are brushing weaker opposition aside. Burnley, on the other hand, are in the middle of a tough run of fixtures that they will be glad to see the back of. City should put The Clarets to the sword, even if they are without their strikers once more.
Prediction: Man City 3-0 Burnley

QPR vs Crystal Palace (15:00)
This is a massive game and is filled with uncertainty now that Neil Warnock has been sacked from his post as Palace manager. QPR almost snatched a point against Arsenal at the weekend but this match is far more important to them and they can reach the 20-point mark with victory. Palace sacked their manager at the most bizarre moment of the season possible. Warnock should have been given the chance to get a result out of this match rather than being given the boot just before it. Sometimes a change in personnel can give a team a boost but QPR are strong at home and seem to beat their relegation rivals consistently and I don’t see that changing here.
Prediction: QPR 3-0 Crystal Palace

Stoke vs West Brom (15:00)
Stoke again surprised me last weekend with another outstanding result and they look assured of a place in the Premier League once more. West Brom, however, do not. Alan Irvine has already admitted his job is under threat and if they lose this one, he could be fired. Stoke seem to slip up randomly, which can offer The Baggies hope, but I’d be surprised if West Brom got a result.
Prediction: Stoke 1-0 West Brom

West Ham vs Arsenal (15:00)
The Hammers rested a couple of players in their defeat to Chelsea and they will have targeted this match as a more winnable game. The Gunners did well to hang on with 10 men against QPR but West Ham have shown that they are no pushovers and they have the firepower up front to hurt Arsene Wenger’s men. This should be quite a fast-paced and entertaining game and these teams are difficult to separate. For all of Alexis Sanchez’s brilliance, Arsenal look too lightweight in midfield and catastrophic at the back. West Ham have big strong forwards who will fancy their chances against Arsenal’s weakened back-line and they are capable of getting a result here.
Prediction: West Ham 2-2 Arsenal

Newcastle vs Everton (16:15)
Both these teams are in poor form and it will be interesting to see how this one pans out. Alan Pardew’s men have lost every match since beating Chelsea and don’t look like producing a good result anytime soon. Having said that, Everton have been appalling this season and another home loss to Stoke was very disappointing. They are already 10 points off the guaranteed Europa League spot and their form is extremely poor. Roberto Martinez may decide to gamble and go for broke in the Europa League because qualification through the Premier League seems improbable. This could go either way but both defences look leaky so there should be goals.
Prediction: Newcastle 2-2 Everton

Monday

Liverpool vs Swansea (20:00)
Both these teams won on Boxing Day but neither won convincingly. Liverpool edged out Burnley while Swansea held off an Aston Villa fightback. Neither side is in incredible form but Swansea’s squad looks tired to me and Liverpool may just have enough to earn an important win.
Prediction: Liverpool 2-1 Swansea

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Top Signing Per Club: A-L

The transfer window slammed shut last night and the Premier League sides will have to make do with what they have until January. Here @0riginalfooty takes a look at the top signing made by each club whose name begins between A and L.

Arsenal
Alexis Sanchez (Barcelona, £30m). Similarly to the capture of Mesut Ozil last summer, this signing has caught the imagination of Arsenal fans and has generated belief that The Gunners can be genuine title contenders once more. He may not have made a flying start to life in the Premier League but the Chilean should prove to be an excellent piece of business.
Other notable signings: Calum Chambers (Southampton, £16m), Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle, £12m), David Ospina (Nice, £3m), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal, £16m).

Aston Villa
Philippe Senderos (Valencia, free). The arrival of the Swiss centre-back was greeted with caution by Villa fans as Senderos had never really proved himself as a totally reliable defender. However, he has struck an instant understanding with Villa skipper Ron Vlaar and Villa’s defensive woes now seem a thing of the past. If he can keep up this form, he will prove to be a marvellous addition.
Other notable signings: Aly Cissokho (Valencia, undisclosed), Tom Cleverley (Manchester United, loan) Joe Cole (West Ham United, free), Kieran Richardson (Fulham, undisclosed), Carlos Sanchez (Elche, undisclosed).

Burnley
Matt Taylor (West Ham United, undisclosed). Burnley have had a tough set of opening fixtures and, despite performing valiantly, they will know how difficult it will be to stay in this league. They were a side who needed to add Premier League experience to their ranks and Taylor certainly fits the bill. His know-how at this level could prove vital to The Clarets survival hopes.
Other notable signings: George Boyd (Hull, £3m), Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea, loan), Matt Gilks (Blackpool, free), Lukas Jutkiewicz (Middlesbrough £1.5m), Michael Keane (Manchester United, loan), Michael Kightly (Stoke City, undisclosed), Steven Reid (West Bromwich Albion, free), Marvin Sordell (Bolton Wanderers, undisclosed), Stephen Ward (Wolves, undisclosed).

Chelsea
Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid, £32m). Costa has been a revelation since signing from La Liga champions Atletico Madrid and has scored four goals in his opening three matches. What has been more impressive, however, is his work-rate off the ball and willingness to battle and make defenders lives a misery. Jose Mourinho will be delighted with his contribution so far and he could easily prove to be the best signing of the season.
Other notable signings: Didier Drogba (Galatasary, free), Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona,£30m), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid £20m).

Crystal Palace
Brede Hangeland (Fulham, free). Hangeland has been a quality performer in the Premier League for many years now and will be an excellent addition to Neil Warnock’s defence. He is a natural born leader on the pitch who is dominant in the air and will happily battle with opposition attackers.
Other notable signings: Fraizer Campbell (Cardiff City, £900k), Kevin Doyle (Wolves, loan), Martin Kelly (Liverpool, undisclosed), Chris Kettings (Blackpool, free), Wilfried Zaha (Manchester United, loan).

Everton
Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea, £28m). Roberto Martinez smashed Everton’s record transfer record by bringing in burly Belgian frontman Romelu Lukaku. He was the top scorer for The Toffees last season and is a constant menace going forward. Everton have put a lot of faith in him with such a big outlay and will hope he can fire them to Champions League football this season.
Other notable signings: Christian Atsu (Chelsea, loan), Gareth Barry (Manchester City, free), Muhamed Besic (Ferencvaros, undisclosed), Samuel Eto’o (Chelsea, free).

Hull
Hatem Ben Arfa (Newcastle United, loan). Hull were very busy on deadline day and surprised many fans with their capture of Newcastle midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa. Ben Arfa fell out with his parent club when he was fined for being overweight but has been given a lifeline by The Tigers. There is no doubting Ben Arfa’s quality if he can stay fit and Hull fans will be eagerly anticipating his debut.
Other notable signings: Michael Dawson (Spurs, undisclosed), Mohammed Diame (West Ham, undisclosed), Tom Ince (Blackpool, undisclosed), Jake Livermore (Spurs, undisclosed), Harry Maguire (Sheffield United, £2.5m), Andrew Robertson (Dundee United, £2.9m), Robert Snodgrass (Norwich City, undisclosed).

Leicester
Leonardo Ulloa (Brighton, £7m). Ulloa, Leicester’s record signing, has made an excellent start to life in the Premier League and scored the equaliser in their most recent draw against Arsenal. He’s a powerful striker who is deadly in the air and The Foxes will be hopeful that his goals can keep them in the Premier League.
Other notable signings: Marc Albrighton (Aston Villa, free), Jack Barmby (Manchester United, free), Esteban Cambiasso (Inter Milan, free), Ben Hamer (Charlton Athletic, free), Matthew Upson (Brighton, free).

Liverpool
Mario Balotelli (AC Milan, £16m). Balotelli has returned to English football, much to the delight of the media, and Liverpool fans will be hopeful that he can produce the world-class form that we know he is capable of on a regular basis. If he can put his troublesome ways behind him and focus on his football then he will be a steal at £16m.
Other notable signings: Emre Can (Bayer Leverkusen, £8m), Adam Lallana (Southampton, £25m), Rickie Lambert (Southampton, £4m), Dejan Lovren (Southampton, £20m), Javi Manquillo (Atletico Madrid, loan), Lazar Markovic (Benfica, £20m), Alberto Moreno (Sevilla, undisclosed).

 

Weekend Preview and Predictions

The long-anticipated first weekend of the new Premier League season is set to begin. Here @0riginalfooty takes a look at the opening round of fixtures and offers predictions as to who will emerge victorious.

Saturday

Man Utd vs Swansea (12:45)
This is the first competitive fixture of Louis van Gaal’s reign and the Dutchman will be keen to get off to a flying start. Wayne Rooney has been announced as the new club captain, so don’t be surprised to see him get off the mark this weekend. This is a tough start for Garry Monk in his first full season as a manager and it’s hard to see them picking up anything from this one.
Prediction: Man Utd 3-1 Swansea

Leicester vs Everton (15:00)
Nigel Pearson will hope that his newly promoted side can carry their title-winning form forward to this season and establish themselves as a Premier League side. The Foxes have been disappointing in the transfer market, despite having money to spend, and face a tough encounter in their first match of the new campaign. Roberto Martinez, in comparison, has splashed £28 million alone on Romelu Lukaku and the Toffees will be hoping to challenge for a Champions League place. This won’t be an easy match for Everton but they should return to Merseyside with a hard fought three points.
Prediction: Leicester 0-1 Everton

QPR vs Hull (15:00)
Harry Redknapp’s team are the favourites of the newly promoted sides to survive in the division and will be hopeful of securing a mid-table finish. Their new signings, such as centre-backs Rio Ferdinand and Steven Caulker, signal their intentions of doing just that. Hull’s ambitions will be similar to their opponents and they should steer well clear of trouble this season, although a venture into Europe could test the depth of their squad. The sale of Shane Long to Southampton was a surprise, given that he only arrived in January, and Steve Bruce will have to replace him sooner rather than later. This match has draw written all over it.
Prediction: QPR 1-1 Hull

Stoke vs Aston Villa (15:00)
Mark Hughes is building a decent side at the Brittania Stadium and has instilled a much more exciting style of play than Tony Pulis ever did. The Potters have added some stimulating signings this summer, such as Bojan Krkic and Mame Biram Diouf, and should finish in the top half once more. Aston Villa have opted to add experienced players to their youthful squad throughout the transfer window and are desperate to avoid yet another relegation battle. Stoke are notoriously strong at home and should edge Villa in this one.
Prediction: Stoke 2-1 Aston Villa

West Brom vs Sunderland (15:00)
These are nervous times for Alan Irvine’s team. There are question marks over whether Brown Ideye can provide the goal-scoring touch that was so desperately missing last season. If he fails to hit the ground running then this could be a very difficult season for The Baggies. Sunderland, on the other hand, will feel relatively optimistic after an encouraging run of form at the end of last season. The Black Cats have added some decent quality to their squad, with the likes of Jack Rodwell and Costel Pantilimon arriving, and the mood around the Stadium of Light is generally positive. This one could go either way so we’ll sit on the fence and go for a draw.
Prediction: West Brom 1-1 Sunderland

West Ham vs Tottenham (15:00)
The Hammers have been proactive in the transfer market as Sam Allardyce attempts to develop a more expansive style of play. Players such as Mauro Zarate and Enner Valencia will bolster their attacking options in the absence of target man Andy Carroll. Mauricio Pochettino believes that his Spurs side is strong enough to secure a top four finish and if they are to achieve that then they will have to win matches like this one. Pochettino will be confident of bringing the best out of Tottenham’s misfiring stars and they should emerge victorious here.
Prediction: West Ham 1-2 Tottenham

Arsenal vs Crystal Palace (17.30)
The Gunners have enjoyed a terrific pre-season and there is a real buzz surrounding Arsene Wenger’s side. The transfer of Alexis Sanchez has been widely proclaimed as the best signing of the window and Arsenal fans genuinely believe that their team can be successful on all fronts this season. Conversely, Palace have been rocked by the news that manager Tony Pulis has left the club by mutual consent. Palace have suddenly emerged as possible relegation candidates, such was Pulis’ effect on their fortunes. The air of uncertainty around The Eagles should work in Arsenal’s favour and they should run out comfortable winners.
Prediction: Arsenal 4-0 Crystal Palace

Sunday

Liverpool vs Southampton (13:30)
This is arguably the tastiest fixture of this round of matches due to Liverpool’s continuous raid of The Saints this summer. Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren have all moved from St Marys to Anfield, which should add an element of spice to this match. Southampton fans have been extremely disappointed by the mass exodus this summer and will hope that Ronald Koeman and his new signings can adapt to the demands of the Premier League. Liverpool should emerge victorious in this one.
Liverpool 3-1 Southampton

Newcastle vs Man City (16:00)
The Magpies ended last season in appalling form and will hope that the new season brings a halt to their dreadful run. Alan Pardew has been very active in the transfer market and players such as Remy Cabella and Siem de Jong will be expected to stop their slide. City have been relatively quiet in the transfer market, only adding quality to specific areas. In truth, their squad is already strong enough to compete on all fronts and they should enjoy another good season. It won’t be straightforward but City will have enough about them to see off Newcastle.
Prediction: Newcastle 1-2 Man City

Monday

Burnley vs Chelsea (20:00)
Burnley mark their return to the Premier League by hosting Chelsea, a side widely tipped to win the league. Sean Dyche’s team finished second in the Championship last season and are expected to struggle to maintain their Premier League status beyond this campaign. If they are to survive they will have to make Turf Moor a fortress and ensure that sides do not leave there with all three points. Chelsea have strengthened extremely well this summer and have added balance, as well as quality, to their squad. This could be a tough opener for the Blues as Burnley are likely to be tough to break down but Mourinho’s side should find a way through.
Burnley 0-1 Chelsea

Majestic Arsenal Batter Below-Par City

The Community Shield saw FA cup holders Arsenal run out 3-0 winners over Premier League champions Manchester City at Wembley.

Santi Cazorla fired Arsenal in front with an expertly executed finish whilst Aaron Ramsey smashed home a second just before half time.

Olivier Giroud completed the rout with a stunning long-range strike over Willy Caballero.

It was a very impressive team display from the North London side who looked solid at the back, dangerous going forward and were rarely troubled by their Premier League rivals.

City, however, offered an extremely flat performance and Manuel Pellegrini made no effort to hide his frustration on the touchline.

Calum Chambers, Alexis Sanchez and Mathieu Debuchy all made their competitive debuts for Arsenal whilst Fernando and Caballero made their first starts for City.

City were missing some key players such as Sergio Aguero, Fernandinho, Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta so Pellegrini won’t be too concerned by how easily his side were dismantled.

Arsenal were also without World Cup winners Per Mertesacker, Lukas Podolski and Mesut Ozil and will be delighted to have performed so ably without them.

The result should give them a big boost for their match against Crystal palace next weekend but City will need to recover confidence before their opener against Newcastle.

Arsenal started the brighter and Mathieu Debuchy was particularly impressive down the right hand side in the opening exchanges.

Samir Nasri, the former Arsenal player, was verbally abused every time he touched the ball by Arsenal fans.

He almost silenced their jeers in the 13th minute but Calum Chambers was quick to block his goal-bound effort.

It was Arsenal, however, who deservedly took the lead in the 22nd minute through Santi Cazorla.

The Spaniard evaded Gael Clichy on the edge of the City area before firing a low left footed strike into the corner of Caballero’s goal.

Yaya Sanogo, who scored four goals in a pre-season friendly against Benfica, had a chance to score his first competitive goal for Arsenal but dragged his shot wide.

It was Arsenal who continued to impress and Clichy deflected a long-range Cazorla shot for a corner.

Sanogo had another chance from the resulting corner but his header landed comfortably in Caballero’s arms.

City almost equalised five minutes before half time after Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic combined well during a quick break, but a swarm of Arsenal defenders managed to block.

Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey scored moments later, however, to double their advantage. Sanogo held up the ball well in the box and fed Ramsey who smashed the ball past Caballero.

Alexis Sanchez had an opportunity to make it three at the end of the first half but Caballero was quickly out of his area to slide at Alexis’ feet and deny him.

David Silva, Nacho Monreal, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Giroud were introduced at half time for Nasri, Alexis, Laurent Koscielny and Sanogo.

Fernando was booked early in the second half for pulling Jack Wilshire to the ground.

Jovetic came agonisingly close moments later after rising over Debuchy to thump a header against the post.

City had begun the second half much brighter than the first and Wojciech Szczesny was finally called into action to deny Jovetic, who fired a stinging shot towards the keeper’s right hand post.

James Milner and Bruno Zuculini were then introduced by Pellegrini to replace Edin Dzeko and Yaya Toure.

Giroud scored an absolute screamer with his left foot from outside the area and bent it over Caballero to give Arsenal a three-goal advantage.

Jovetic, who was City’s most creative attacking force, attempted an elaborate overhead kick but it flew comfortably over the bar.

Mathieu Flamini and Tomas Rosicky were then called upon by Wenger to replace Wilshire and Cazorla.

Micah Richards came on for Aleksandar Kolarov as substitutions began to disrupt the flow of the game.

Jesus Navas was also withdrawn for Scott Sinclair and Aaron Ramsey replaced by Joel Campbell; Arsene Wenger’s final substitution.

Dedryck Boyata had a great opportunity to grab a consolation for City but his header from a corner went wide.

Premier League Preview: Arsenal

Devastatingly, the World Cup is over. But fear not. There is only a month to wait ‘til the start of the Premier League. Over the next few weeks @0riginalfooty will preview the new season, take a look at each team and offer our predictions as to where each side will finish. We will move alphabetically and begin with Arsenal.

Arsenal enjoyed their best season in 9 years last term, finishing fourth and achieving glory in the FA cup. They appear adamant to build upon their success and are making some decent inroads in adding to their already capable squad. Arsenal fans will be eager for the new season to start as soon as possible and will be confident of pushing the likes of Man City and Chelsea all the way.

The Manager
Arsene Wenger is an experienced Premier League customer and the longest serving boss in the league. His every move has been scrutinized over the past 9 years as they failed to deliver any silverware and he appeared to be too ponderous in the transfer market. However, after delivering big-money signing Mesut Ozil and victory in the FA cup, every Arsenal fan is behind him and they’re beginning to believe that he can challenge once more for Premier league glory.

Wenger is the longest-serving manager in the Premier League

Wenger is the longest serving manager in the Premier League

Biggest Signing
Arsenal have already pulled off a major coup in the transfer market and one that is unlikely to be topped. Alexis Sanchez has arrived from Barcelona and is a proven world-class performer. The signing has given the fans a similar buzz to when Mesut Özil arrived last summer and will give fresh belief to those fans who dream of Arsenal being the best side in England once more. Sanchez is not only a top player but he is also versatile. He can play anywhere across the front three, offering competition for the likes of Walcott and Podolski, and even an alternative option to Olivier Giroud.

Alexis Sanchez is a great signing for Arsenal

Alexis Sanchez is a great signing for Arsenal

Who is tipped to join them?
As with every transfer window, Arsenal are linked with a host of top-quality footballers that will have every supporter drooling with excitement. Mario Balotelli has been mooted as a new striking option, which would be particularly pleasing for Arsenal supporters as there are question marks over Olivier Giroud’s abilities to be a title-defining centre forward. Juan Cuadrado is also being linked with a move after an impressive World Cup and again could be a fresh and exciting option to Arsenal’s attack. Mathieu Debuchy has been selected to replace the departing Bacary Sagna at right-back and should sign within the next few days.

Debuchy is widely expected to join Arsenal in the coming days

Debuchy is widely expected to join Arsenal

Who should they sign?
I have always doubted Mikel Arteta’s ability to be a title-winning centre midfielder and they should look to replace him this transfer window. Sami Khedira has stalled on a new contract in Madrid and is reportedly keen on a move to the Premier League. Linking up with German compatriots Mesut Özil, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski could be an intriguing proposition. Arsenal would be signing a proven centre-midfielder who has just won the Champions League and the World Cup so Wenger should make his signing a priority.

Khedira would prove a fantastic piece of business should Wenger lure him away from the Santiago Bernabeu

Khedira would prove a fantastic piece of business should Wenger lure him away from the Santiago Bernabeu

Key Player
Aaron Ramsey. Sanchez and Özil may be the global superstars of this Arsenal side but it is the Welshman who makes them tick. He was in scintillating form at the beginning of the season until unfortunately succumbing to injury and they really missed him. He offers intelligent deep runs from midfield that no other Arsenal player has in their locker and is a deadly finisher. If he remains fit, he could help Arsenal go all the way.

Arsenal fans will be hopeful that star man Aaron Ramsey can stay fit in the upcoming campaign

Arsenal fans will be hopeful that star man Aaron Ramsey can stay fit in the upcoming campaign

Prediction
Arsenal performed capably last season and I expect them to improve on their performance this time around. They look like they will keep hold of all their top performers and are adding genuine quality to the squad so should keep improving. They will offer a title challenge but are just short of usurping Man City and Chelsea at the top of the pile. If they have a title challenge and can bring home more silverware in one of the cup competitions then that would be viewed as a good season for them. Expect Arsenal to finish 3rd.

Brazil 1 – 1 Chile (3-2 on penalties)

It was a hugely dramatic night in Belo Horizonte as Brazil came out on top in a penalty shoot out, after 120 minutes of gripping football failed to separate these two South American sides.

It was Brazil who drew first blood after 18 minutes. Thiago Silva’s flick from Neymar’s in-swinging corner fizzed towards David Luiz at the back post, only for Jara, a man whose night would be filled with tragedy, to nudge the ball inadvertently into his own net.

Shortly after, Neymar, looking bright, showed great pace and trickery to burst into the Chilean box but could only drag a weak shot well wide. Brazil looked much the better side in the opening half hour, as the terrifying atmosphere created by the wonderful home support at the Estadio Mineirão seemingly overawed the Chilean players.

However, a sloppy touch after receiving a throw in, saw Hulk, who was off colour for much of the 90 minutes, gift Chile possession deep inside the Brazil half. Eduardo Vargas couldn’t believe his luck as he stole in and slid a ball to Alexis Sanchez who in turn slotted home from close range. It was a dreadful goal to concede from a Brazilian perspective, especially as they had dominated for much of the game so far.

Sanchez’ goal injected life into the Chileans who now looked far more comfortable on the ball, no longer relying on pacey counter-attacks. That said, Brazil continued to have the better of the play as a stunning ball from Oscar left Neymar again in a dangerous position inside the Chilean box. This time the young star hesitated, allowing defenders to smother the attack. Their attempted clearance, however, almost saw Fred score a lucky goal as the ball bounced off the foot of the number 9, only to fly narrowly over the crossbar.

Dani Alves’ superb swerving strike from range forced Bravo to parry the ball over his cross bar, while Fred tragically miscued one of his many off-target shots in the first half. A mistake from Luis Gustavo allowed Sanchez to play Aranguiz through on goal, only for Luiz to get back and smother his effort, conceding a corner.

That would be the final play of an exhilarating half which had plenty of chances, errors and fouls, at times threatening to boil over –  Fred and Gary Medel exchanged a heated moment as they trudged off at the interval.

It was a slightly cagey start to the second half but on 55 minutes the Mineirão exploded as Marcelo’s long ball into the box found Hulk who controlled and sliced a finish across Bravo and into the bottom left corner of his net. The ecstatic Porto man wheeled away to the home support, only to realize that Howard Webb had blown his whistle, with either he or his assistant Mike Mullarkey having adjudged Hulk to have used his arm to take the ball down. After several studies of the replays from various angles, it seems that somehow, incredibly the officials made the correct decision.

The game again turned slightly more subdued and it was Chile who were having the better of the play, with Cesar forced into a superb reaction save from Aranguiz’s powerful close range effort.

Scolari felt he had to change things and hauled Fred off after yet another disappointing display. His replacement Jo almost made an instant impact but somehow failed to get any sort of a solid contact on Hulk’s wicked ball across, perhaps justifying his lack of game time for Manchester City despite his inflated price tag.

The game rather petered out and extra-time looked inevitable, despite two saves from Bravo as Neymar had a headed chance and Hulk struck from distance.

Extra-time continued in much the same vein as the second 45, but still had the odd moment of exciting individual skill, most notably as Hulk, who was the best player in this period, danced past two Chilean defenders and forced another smart stop from Bravo.

This was one of few moments of quality in the latter stages, as players inevitably tired. Jo again fluffed his lines while the equally beleaguered Pinilla, Chile’s substitute, hit a few poor shots either off-target or into defenders. However, right at the death, that man Pinilla left Brazil inches away from crashing out of their own tournament as he smashed a thunderous drive against the upper half of the crossbar, in what would be almost the final play before the shoot-out.

 

It was 2-2 after four penalties each, with two smart saves from Cesar, a limp attempt from Willian and the pick of the bunch from Aranguiz. It was now sudden death, and who else but Neymar would step up and take such a crucial penalty for the Brazilians? It would have surely been too cruel for him to miss and after a tricky run-up he slotted home in a fittingly cool fashion. Chile’s hopes now rested on free-agent Jara, recently released by Nottingham Forest and the man who put Brazil in front early on. His bad luck was not up, however, as he sent the Brazil players, staff and fans into raptures as his penalty cannoned back off the post.

 

The result was harsh on Chile, but Brazil probably deserved their victory despite their less than convincing performance. Scolari will surely need to address some pressing concerns with his side’s play, notably their low passing accuracy – Fernandinho and Luis Gustavo both culpable, and also whether Fred can really justify a place in the starting 11.

 

Player Ratings:

 

Brazil:

Julio Cesar – 8:
Made a stunning save from Aranguiz and was solid throughout the match. Also superb in the shoot-out.

Alves – 7:
Not always the most defensively assured but had one brilliant effort at goal and put in several dangerous crosses.

Thiago Silva – 6:
Solid on the whole but wasn’t alert to the danger for Chile’s goal. Made a few good tackles later on, though.

David Luiz – 6:
No real errors today for a man who is often guilty of sloppy defending, and would have found himself on the score-sheet had Jara not done the job for him.

Marcelo – 7:
Excellent going forward, had a chance early on and put several great balls into the box, the best of which led to the big controversy with Hulk’s alleged hand-ball.

Fernandinho – 5:
I understand why this was Scolari’s only change, as he looked impressive as a substitute against Cameroon. But the Man City man failed to make any real impact and actually gave away more fouls than he made passes in the Chile half.

Luis Gustavo – 5:
Not great in possession and guilty of giving away too many fouls, also gifted Chile a chance at the end of the first half. That said he did win the ball back importantly on a few occasions and didn’t stop running.

Oscar – 5:
Frustrating afternoon for the Chelsea man as he really didn’t see much of the ball. Did make one or two good long distance passes but was on the whole disappointing.

Hulk – 7:
Wasn’t at his best in the 90 but still threatened on occasions and was easily the best player in extra time. Was perhaps unlucky to have his goal disallowed and also could have had an assist had Jo got contact on his cross.

Neymar – 7:
Certainly Brazil’s best player in normal time but looked tired towards the end of the game. A number of moments of individual quality but was guilty of passing up a few good opportunities.

Fred – 4:
A passenger throughout the game and hit several feeble shots wide of the mark. Still don’t think he adds anything to the side and Scolari must surely be considering other options

 

Subs:

Jo – 5: (on for Fred – 62 mins)
Not much better than the man he replaced, made little impact and scuffed a good chance.

Ramires – 6: (on for Fernandinho – 72 mins)
Was inevitably full of running when he came on and stretched Chile’s tiring midfield at times.

Willian – 6: (on for Oscar – 106 mins)
Looked fairly lively with one good cross and one good free kick in the dying minutes of the match. Could have done more though.

 

Chile:

Bravo – 8:
My choice for man of the match, with a string of superb saves he kept Chile in the game at times. By no means at fault for the goal, either.

Isla – 7:
Looked solid defensively and also got forward well.

Silva – 7:
Strong in defence and made a number of important blocks.

Mena – 5:
The least assured of Chile’s defenders as he was beaten far too often by Neymar and struggled when Marcelo got forward.

Medel – 6:
A typically combative display from the Cardiff man, with a number of characteristically strong tackles a few of which actually saw him get the ball.

Jara – 5:
Mercilessly unlucky both with the own goal and the penalty miss. Was generally solid for the rest of the game but no doubt a game to forget for him.

Vidal – 7:
He’s the man who makes Chile tick, and he started off a number off attacks with pinpoint passes. They didn’t look the same side after he went off.

Vargas – 6:
Looked dangerous on occasions but was subbed off before what was probably Chile’s best period.

Aranguiz – 7:
Always looked to get involved and had two good chances; the first saw a good block from Luis and the second forced a stunning save from Cesar.

Sanchez – 8:
A constant threat on the counter in the first half and showed his quality throughout the match. Finished his only clear-cut opportunity with typical precision.

Diaz – 6:
Had some good link up play with Sanchez and Aranguiz but blasted a few shots and a free kick way off target. Failed to carve out any real chances.

 

Subs:

Gutierrez – 5: (on for Vargas – 55 mins)
Given plenty of time to make an impact did little to impress.

Pinilla – 6: (on for Vidal – 87 mins)
Was generally wasteful but was a few inches away from sealing a famous victory with a fabulous effort right at the end of the game.

Rojas – 5: (on for Medel – 108 mins)
Not really given long but barely touched the ball.