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Julio Cesar was Brazil's hero in penalty shootout win over Chile
Saved two penalties as hosts reached last eight
Brazil faces Colombia for place in semifinals Friday
Cesar wary of Colombia star James Rodriguez
Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar has gone from scapegoat to national hero in the space of two World Cups and is hoping that the wave of emotion which both he and his teammates rode to secure a penalty shootout triumph against Chile will see them past the stern test provided by Colombia in the quarterfinals Friday.
Cesar, who was held responsible for a blunder in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa as his side went out to the Netherlands in the quarterfinals, made two superb saves in the shootout as Brazil won its last 16 clash in a nail biting finale in Belo Horizonte.
Several players, captain Thiago Silva and star player Neymar included, showed outward signs of emotion during the course of the match against Chile but Cesar told CNN that it was a natural reaction given the pressure of hosting the competition.
“We were in a situation where we could have been eliminated from the round of 16 in a World Cup in Brazil, so not only did I get emotional, but so did some of the other members of the team,” he said.
“We know the importance of winning this World Cup in Brazil, not only for ourselves, but for our families, and especially for the fans.
“We don’t know when Brazil will have another opportunity to host a World Cup, so I think we need to take advantage of this opportunity,” added the 34-year-old.
Despite his 84 caps, Cesar has had his critics and in the buildup to the World Cup finals spent an unhappy spell at English second-flight team Queens Park Rangers, before being farmed out on loan to MLS side Toronto.
His place in the Brazil team appeared at risk, but Cesar credits coach Luiz Felipe Scolari with sticking with him despite his difficulties.
“I think it’s the primary reason why I’m here today. Eight months ago he gave an interview saying that regardless if I was playing or not, I would playing at the World Cup. So this is something that gives you peace of mind,” he added.
Whether that peace of mind extends to the clash with Colombia and the prospect of preventing their goalscoring sensation James Rodriguez from adding to his competition leading tally of five goals is another matter.
Rodriquez scored twice – his first probably the goal of the tournament – in his side’s 2-0 last 16 win over Uruguay and Cesar admits he will be difficult to stop.
“James is a player that has been amazing everyone. I think that the World Cup gives players the opportunity to showcase their work to the world and I think James is making the most of it,” he said.
“For now, though, I hope that against Brazil, he can halt his continued progression as a player until after the tournament has ended, because Brazil has to win.”
Brazil has its own trump card in Barcelona’s Neymar, who has impressed Cesar with his mature performances despite carrying the hopes of a nation.
“You see a 22-year-old in his first World Cup in Brazil taking to the pitch as if he were playing with his friends in the street. In my opinion, that’s his biggest strength,” said Cesar.
“He’s just like any other guy and I think his family is the main reason why he has accomplished so much, and yet remained humble. I think he’s a fantastic kid.”
The last eight clash in Fortaleza could well hinge on which of the young superstars can put their imprint on the proceedings, while Cesar will be hoping to avoid the sort of error that haunted him during his last appearance at this stage of the competition four years ago.