Belo Horizonte: Groups of Chilean fans moved about the streets here on the eve of their team's game against Brazil. Some were on foot, some rode in packed cars with the red, white and blue flag of Chile fluttering from windows, and many yelled their familiar chant, "Chi Chi Chi, Le Le Le," while locals looked on, distinctly unamused.
The Brazilians have been wonderful in hosting their first World Cup since 1950, but the Chileans are bent on repaying that hospitality with the unthinkable: knocking Brazil out of its own tournament in the Round of 16 on Saturday.
If Brazilians lose interest upon their team's being eliminated, it would subtract a large supply of ready-made pageantry and sizzle from what has evolved into a theatrical tournament. On Thursday, when the Brazilian national team arrived on a chartered flight from its base outside Rio de Janeiro, fans lined the streets to greet the bus along the route to the hotel. (It's nervous Brazil vs confident Chile)
"There are thousands of people waving and screaming," said Thiago Silva, Brazil's captain. "Those are situations which show how much Brazilians love their national team and we always want to win and we have to think about victory. If it does not happen, life goes on."
Still, almost any international soccer tournament is more captivating with the home team still alive. In Brazil, even more so. But the Chileans do not care.
Alexis Sanchez, Chile's bold young forward, wants to ruin the party. On Thursday he declared that Chile would win and make history. Chile has a terrible record against Brazil overall, with 7 wins, 48 losses and 13 draws since 1916. It has never beaten Brazil in the World Cup, and has not beaten it in any competition since 2000.But this new, dynamic Chilean team is one of South America's revelations in this tournament, along with Colombia, and its win over the defending champion Spain at the Maracana stadium has infused confidence.
"I am deeply convinced that we might win," said Eugenio Mena, a Chilean left back who plays for Santos in Brazil. "We have that hope."
Well, perhaps the Chileans were backing off the bravado. Even Sanchez's threat to douse the samba party with cold water was probably not enough to rile up Brazilian fans or the players, who made sure to pay respect to the hard-charging Chileans.
"I don't think it's a provocation," Silva said of Sanchez's claim. "He trusts his team, as I do mine. I'm also here to get into history."
But Sanchez did succeed in agitating the Brazilian contingent with comments he made about the officiating for the match. Sanchez said he was worried that the referee, Howard Webb, might offer preferential treatment to the home side. Brazil was the beneficiary of a dubious penalty kick awarded by the referee Yuichi Nishimura in its first game against Croatia, and the Chileans thought they had been burned by a missed hand-ball call in their 2-0 loss to the Netherlands.
Chile's concern prompted an angry retort from Rodrigo Paiva, Brazil's team spokesman. During a news conference Thursday when the matter was broached, Paiva interjected ahead of Silva and Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari to chide Chilean reporters, saying they were immature for even asking about the issue.
"It is a lack of respect to the Brazilian people," he said. "Brazil doesn't need a referee to win a match, and you should respect a little bit more the Brazilian team and the Brazilian people."
More pressing than the referees for Chile is Neymar, the 22-year-old star who has captivated his nation with four goals and has a knack for bailing out his team when it is not playing up to its standards.
But Jorge Sampaoli, Chile's coach, noted that tactics were not paramount in a game of this magnitude.
"Courage is going to be very important," he said, "because if you don't fight against an opponent that has the whole stadium, the whole country on their side, the result will be clear."
An Argentine, Sampaoli is somewhat of an expert in the matter of defeating Brazilians in Brazil. When he coached Universidad, a top club team in Chile, before a critical Copa Libertadores match in 2011, he showed the players the film "Paradise Lost," the story of how Uruguay stunned Brazil, 2-1, at the Maracana in the 1950 World Cup final.
"We wanted to show that video to prove that nothing is impossible," he said. "We wanted to show what Uruguay was able to do here at Maracana."
© 2014 New York Times News Service