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Brazil holds on to beat Colombia, advance to semifinals


FORTALEZA, Brazil — Brazil wrapped an entire World Cup’s worth of emotions into one game.

Anxiety. Elation. And, as Neymar was carried off the field on a stretcher, fear.

Giving an emphatic response to all the fans who worried about the team’s psyche, Brazil got goals from Thiago Silva and David Luiz and then hung on for dear life in one of the wackiest and most frenetic games of this World Cup. When it finally ended and the entire country collapsed in exhaustion, Brazil was a 2-1 winner over Colombia and into the semifinals for the first time since winning its fifth title in 2002.

That doesn’t mean the fretting is over, however. Not when Neymar’s health is in question.

The Brazilian star, the poster boy for not only his team but the entire tournament, covered his eyes with his hand as he was carried off the field in the closing minutes of regulation after being kneed in the back by Colombia’s Juan Zuniga.

SILVA: Captain to miss semis after silly yellow card

That, however, is a worry for another day. As the final whistle sounded, the Estadio Castelao erupted as if Brazil had just won its sixth title. David Luiz, whose wondrous goal on a free kick from 30 yards turned out to be the game-winner, dropped to his knees, raising his index fingers high in the air while briefly closing his eyes.

As the players gathered at midfield to salute the crowd, the fans let out a roar that could be heard all the way to the Maracana, site of the July 13 final.

First, however, comes a semifinal with Germany on Tuesday in Belo Horizonte.

As five-time champions, Brazil is expected to win every World Cup. But there’s added urgency as the host of this year’s tournament. The World Cup was supposed to be Brazil’s big coming out party, the chance to show it has shed its third-world status.

Instead, corruption and delays pushed costs for the World Cup over $11 billion. Angry enough at the wasted resources, Brazilians also are furious at the embarrassment caused by the chaotic World Cup preparations.

Once the World Cup began, however, the resentment was put on hold. Brazil was a heavy favorite to win, and pride in the Selecao trumps anger at politicians any day.

But Brazil’s too-close-for-comfort win over Chile in the round of 16 didn’t sit well with fans. Several of the players cried after the penalty shootout – Silva and Julio Cesar didn’t wait that long, tears flowing beforehand – and Brazilians wondered if they were strong enough to deliver a sixth title.

When Luiz Felipe Scolari brought in a sports psychologist after the game, it only fueled the uproar. (Never mind that she’s worked with the team before, and has been part of Scolari’s staff for two decades.)

But Neymar and Silva insisted the players’ psyches were just fine, thank you very much. And any doubts were erased with Silva’s goal in the seventh minute. Nobody was covering Silva at the back post as Neymar lofted a corner kick high above the scrum, and Silva tapped it into the goal with his left knee.

Silva sprinted toward the corner, pounding the Brazil crest above his heart. The crowd danced and sang, the atmosphere so electric the Estadio Castelao practically crackled.

Colombia has been one of the most dynamic and appealing teams in the tournament, playing the delightful attacking style with the finesse that used to be Brazil’s calling card. But Brazil never let Colombia find its rhythm, and the frenetic pace made the game look more like a playground game than a World Cup quarterfinal.

David Luiz’s goal in the 68th only added to the wackiness. But James Rodriguez converted a penalty in the 80th after Julio Cesar’s slide tackle of Carlos Bacca in the box, giving the Colombians new energy. They couldn’t find another goal, though, and Brazil’s party rolled on.

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