Leon Wobschall: Finger of fate now pointing lucky Brazil towards the final

Napoleon famously said: “I have plenty of clever generals, but just give me a lucky one.”

Brazil are proving to be over-reliant on their star man Neymar (Picture: Hassan Ammar/AP).

Football may not quite be war – or should not be at any rate – but successful campaigns do take on a militaristic theme and the man commanding host country Brazil’s World Cup mission already seems to possess that priceless commodity to which the French emperor once alluded.

In the theatre of combat in Belo Horzionte on Saturday, Brazil and Luiz Felipe Scolari got lucky.

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Three steps from heaven the Selecao may be, but they were a couple of inches away from hell when Chile’s Maurico Pinilla unleashed his thunderous strike in the 120th minute of their classic meeting with the hosts.

Brazil's goalkeeper Julio Cesar, top right, is congratulated by his teammates as Chile's Gonzalo Jara, top left, walks past after the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Brazil and Chile at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte

David Luiz was praying for divine intervention ahead of the penalty shoot-out not too long after, but Brazil had surely had their fill of it already when the shot struck the bar.

Cue a collective sigh of relief from close to 200 million people and cue the hackneyed cliche from football summarisers everywhere following the penalty lottery that ‘It is better that the host country stays in the competition’. Why?

Try telling that to a tearful Gary Medel. ‘The Pitbull’ cried like a baby along with the rest of Chile following the end of an intoxicating World Cup ride which had seduced footballing neutrals every bit as much as Brazil’s story, if not more.

For Brazil, it was perhaps the moment that can define champions, just when they were preparing to stare down the barrel as they did at the Maracana in 1950 at the hands of Uruguay.

Luck comes in handy. Rewind the clock to Italy in 1982, when the Azzurri used up a fair slice of that elusive product.

History will show Enzo Bearzot’s side only reached the knockout stages courtesy of scoring one more goal than Cameroon after they finished level on points and goal difference in their group.

Many of a certain age will also remember how they sent home Brazil in the second group stage and while Paolo Rossi took the glory, it was dozy defending from Junior in playing him onside that had just as much to do with that famous 3-2 victory in Barcelona.

In 1986, we had Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ and just as the pendulum swung for him following a red-card disgrace four years earlier, so fortune favoured Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar in Saturday’s penalty shoot-out after his high-profile mistake in his country’s loss to Holland in South Africa in 2010.

The last host nation to lift a World Cup? France in 1998 and who can forget how they enjoyed a fair bit of fortune in the knockout phases to beat Paraguay courtesy of the first golden goal in history, and then Italy on penalties in the quarter-finals despite clearly lacking a quality central striker.

A bit like Brazil, whose over-reliance on Neymar is huge.

Who can recall Stephane Guivarc’h? No wonder Laurent Blanc kissed Fabian Barthez’s head for luck... Well, Brazil’s Fred is doing a very passable impersonisation of the French striker this time around.

But Brazil stumble on and no one will care in a nation where anything less than lifting the gleaming trophy in Rio in just under a fortnight will be represented as a failure. The team train under a pillar of rock known as ‘God’s finger’ and trust that it is pointing them to glory.