By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 29, 2010; D01
JOHANNESBURG -- Thirty minutes had passed Monday evening, and Brazil looked -- dare it be said -- ordinary. The improvisation, style and interplay, hallmarks of the Brazilian way, were missing from its World Cup round-of-16 match against Chile.
But all it takes for the Seleção to alter a match is a moment of brilliance, a devilish touch or an exquisite run, a combination to unlock a defense or, most devastatingly, a swift counterattack.
The rising actually began in simple form with Juan's header off a corner kick. The artistry followed.
Luis Fabiano capped a lovely sequence for his third goal of the tournament, and when Robinho applied the finishing touches to Ramires's sweet run early in the second half, the five-time champions were on their merry way to a 3-0 victory over Chile and a quarterfinal berth against the Netherlands on Friday in Port Elizabeth.
The Brazilians, among the early favorites, and the Dutch, unbeaten in four matches, will meet in the knockout stage for the third time in five World Cups.
"Some people doubted that we would perform, but as we go along, that confidence is growing and growing," Brazil Coach Dunga said.
Chile, which has yielded 29 goals in eight consecutive losses to its South American rival, was assertive and competent for more than 30 minutes in front of 54,096 spectators. Before long, though, Brazil began to assert itself, even without starting midfielders Elano and Felipe Melo (ankle injuries).
Dani Alves, who stars for FC Barcelona but often sits in reserve for Brazil because of Maicon's awesome presence at right back, stepped onto the right side of midfield, and Ramires, who at 23 is the youngest member of the squad, was influential in the center of the park.
Despite two starting defenders serving suspensions, Chile survived the first half-hour. Individually, Brazil dazzled. Collectively, Brazil lacked cohesion and understanding.
In the 35th minute, after Ramires's gorgeous through ball to Maicon led to a corner kick, Brazil punctured the deadlock. Juan slipped from his mark and rose to head Maicon's service over goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
Three minutes later, Brazil struck again on a rapid counter. Kaka won a header in midfield, directing it wide to Robinho, who settled the ball on the left flank, cut inside and squared it back to Kaka.
Fabiano timed his run perfectly, staying even with the line of defense as Kaka one-touched the ball into the box. Bravo charged, but Fabiano nimbly dodged him and tucked the shot into a vacant net.
Fourteen minutes after the break, Ramires embarked on a 40-yard run through the heart of the Chilean defense. When he reached the entrance to the penalty area, he steered the ball to his left to Robinho, whose one-timer curled beyond Bravo's reach to hit the right corner.
Chile battled gallantly the rest of the cool evening, creating several quality chances, but the match had been lost in a blur late in the first half.
"The superiority of Brazil was too much for us," Chile Coach Marcelo Bielsa said. "We were unable to slow them down. They were quick to take advantage of every crack in our defense."
With the outcome settled, Dunga removed Kaka, who, in his return from a red card suspension, collected a yellow in the first half. Another caution would have sent him off again, and Dunga could hardly afford to lose his conductor for the Netherlands showdown.
With Kaka safely stored on the bench, Brazil savored its finest performance of the tournament.
"If we play like this," Fabiano said, "we can go very far."
Bielsa was asked to assess Brazil's vulnerability.
"How do you want me to talk about Brazil's weaknesses after 3-0?"