Brazil 1-1 Colombia: Neymar secures hard-fought draw
Colombia have been performing well in South American World Cup qualifying ahead of the 2014 event and showed their impressive form in-front of a passionate support, outplaying Brazil for long periods of the tight encounter.
Indeed, Los Cafeteros took a first-half lead through the impressive Juan Guillermo Cuadrado, but saw their lead pegged back by a moment of individual brilliance from Neymar, who would later miss an opportunity from the penalty spot to hand Mano Menezes what would have been a first victory over top 10 ranked opposition.
Brazil were tidy throughout, but found themselves out-thought in a first-half that still yielded the better chances for the Seleção. Colombia found a rhythm in midfield that saw them ahead on the possession count for much of the game, but it was on the flanks with full-backs Pablo Armero and, principally, Cuadrado where they enjoyed greatest successes. Mano Menezes' two suprise selections, Thiago Neves and Leandro Castán teamed-up on the left-flank and both were exposed by the attacking intent of Cuadrado.
The biggest opening of the early period fell to Kaká, who was slipped into space by Neymar but drapped his shot wide of the far-post in a manner unexpected of the Real Madrid star, but his junior colleague was to squander an even better opening. Half-way through the first period, Daniel Alves swung in a cross from the right to find Neymar competely unmarked in the centre - only for the Santos man to head straight at Ospina from close range. Somewhat at odds with the general balance of play, the chances kept coming for Brazil and soon, Kaká had struck the crossbar with a curling effort from just outside the area. It just wasn't his day and Ospina was living a charmed life in the Colombi net.
Predictably, the failure to take their opportunities would come back to haunt Brazil as Cuadrado once more found acres of space behind Leandro Castán and, once found by James Rodriguez, has plenty of time to smash the ball through the outstretched gloves of Diego Alves and into the far corner.
After half-time, Brazil did at least manage to control Colombia's forrays down the flanks better than they had done previously and once more were profligate in front of goal with Ospina denying Neymar in the opening seconds of the half. The youngster was not to be denied and embarked upon a trademark run from deep on the left flank, via a sharp interchange with Kaká, only to strike tamely at Ospina from 20 yards.
Neymar's day was to improve, though, as moments later he levelled proceedings with typical quality. Skipping between his two markers on the left of the area, the 20-year-old went for delicacy on this occasion, nestling the ball low into the far corner of Ospina's goal for his 17th goal in Brazil colours. In truth, he should have scored more, but this was the Santos youngster coming-up with the answer for Brazil when they truly needed it - a criticism he has faced over the past two years.
It should have been more, though, when the referee later awarded a penalty for a foul in the area on Dani Alves by Armero. It was a tough call on the Colombian, whose leg had indeed stretched around the Barcelona man and poked the ball away. Neymar will want to forget the following spot-kick, however, blazing the ball half-a-mile over the bar with the chance to win the match in front of him.
There were positives for Brazil: Neymar and Kaká combined delightfully, David Luiz and Thiago Silva showed a fine understanding and Paulinho showed himself to be at home at this level. There were also disappointments. Most pressing, though, will be the threat that the world's elite teams will cut through the current defensive system - with gaps in-front of the centre-backs and behind both full-backs. Mano must strike a better balance in games to come. All-in-all, though, the Seleção now have a clear indication of the task ahead and the progress they have made. By next summer's Confederations Cup, further strides must be made in development ahead of 2014's grand prize.