The sport of soccer being what it is—a game of players, whose fates are judged on the last moments they leave us with—Brazil's goalkeeper Júlio César will go down as today's hero when his team outlasted Chile to win on penalties. But even as strong a performance as his should not overshadow the impact Brazil's goal frame itself had on rescuing Brazil from one of their most humiliating losses ever.
First it was the crossbar, which was more resolute in the final moments of open play than Brazil's exhausted defense when it refused to bend to Mauricio Pinilla's cannon shot in the 120th minute. Partially because of the creeping midday sun which shrouded half the field in shadow while beating full bore on the other half, and partially because of the sheer velocity Pinalla transferred from his sprinting, then arcing back, then hurdling forward foot into the ball, you couldn't track the shot's trajectory with your eyes. It was in front of the Chilean, it was ahead of that onrushing foot, then it was gone. Only Ian Darke's shrieks alerted us to the fact that it caromed off the crossbar, until it finally fell back into play after a minute or two in the upper reaches of the atmosphere.
Next it was the right post, which, while normally rounded, must've somehow squared itself to ensure Gonzalo Jara's decisive penalty blast would ricochet past the other post instead of glancing into the opposite side netting.
Those two deflections, as much as the two saves César himself was able to muster in the shootout and his performance during the rest of the game, were crucial factors in saving the home team from a loss that from the time Chile equalized in the first half until the very last kick looked destined to come to be.
When things first kicked off, Brazil looked well on their way to putting on the party the home fans had shown up for. Neymar picked up right where he'd left off in his superb displays in the three group stage matches, and was popping up all over the pitch, crafting chances for himself and others that barely missed the target. Even after scoring from outside the box with his left foot in the opener, Neymar looked reluctant to test the keeper with his weaker leg this time and wasted a couple great opportunities trying to get the ball on his right. Chilean keeper Claudio Bravo, who deserves similar rhapsodies after this match as Mexico's Guillermo Ochoa elicited in his game against Brazil, made a couple critical saves to keep Chile from being swallowed whole in the sea of yellow and green.
In the 18th minute, Brazil finally broke through when Neymar sent in a corner that Thiago Silva redirected with his forehead for David Luiz (though he's still credited with the goal) Jara to flick into the back of his own net. The stadium was rocking.
Brazil tried to press their advantage after taking the lead and added a couple near misses that might have put the match to bed until Chile hit back against the run of play in the 32nd minute. From a throw in deep in his own half, Hulk cushioned a soft back pass that was intercepted by Chile and sent into the feet of Alexis Sánchez, who rolled the ball into the far post's side netting.
The Seleção looked a little stunned at the response and Chile sensed their moment. All of the sudden the dogged pressing high up the pitch that makes Chile tick began to harry what were previously comfortable Brazilian midfielders. From the equalizer until halftime, Chile had the better chances to go out and score the go-ahead goal.
After the interval, the match ground down into a messy display of inaccurate long balls and constant fouls. The weight of the moment, of the heat, of the massive, massively pro-Brazilian crowd and its deafening silence was too much for most of those tired legs on both teams to withstand.
Where Neymar had been so influential throughout the tournament in his central role, he was strangely quiet. Oscar for almost the entire match was completely anonymous parked out on the right wing, one of Brazil's creative engines going curiously unused. Chile's talisman, Alexis, was doing most of his best work in the center of the pitch, fighting off Silva and Luiz while waiting for someone, anyone, to join him in attack.
The entire second half and subsequent extra time was strange in that way. Brazil both looked like the only side that might score and doomed to come up empty handed. Hulk was Brazil's best player in the later stages, singularly focused on making up for his earlier mistake. Chile, dead tired at that point, was looking towards the penalty shootout from about the 60th minute onward. Brazil finally conceded their fate around the second half of extra time.
Ultimately, it was those two interventions by the woodwork that kept Brazil in. The emotion of César in the post-match interview, as well as the full-body weeping of Neymar right after Jara's penalty rebounded wide showed how close the Brazilians felt to that precipice of crushing disappointment.
You don't win the World Cup without a bit of luck, though, so while this match and frankly all of Brazil's performances so far in this World Cup should be cause for alarm, there is still time to turn things around. Brazil are still alive, and the goal posts in the next match will be as Brazilian as the ones today.