Netherlands and Chile go head-to-head on Monday knowing that defeat will leave them facing the prospect of taking on Brazil in their own back yardBy Kris Voakes in Sao Paulo
The hordes of yellow shirts fill the crowd, the players and fans belt out the national anthem in unison, the spirit envelopes everybody in close proximity. And then, of course, there is Neymar.
There is something special about Brazil inviting the rest of the world to see what can become of football when a whole country pulls in one direction for a couple of hours. The hairs on the back of the neck have rarely been more alert, even for neutrals.
But it is hardly the most mouth-watering of prospects for an opposing national team and, for one of Netherlands and Chile, it will almost certainly become a reality at the weekend.
Brazil will probably qualify from Group A as winners, while it would take a pair of freak results on Monday evening to knock out the Selecao and spare both Louis van Gaal and Jorge Sampaoli from having to plot a route past the host nation on the way to the quarter-finals.
The probability is that the early kick-off at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo has become a play-off for the right to avoid Brazil. With both nations having already qualified, such a fixture might normally be expected to be a non-event. But given the apparent booby prize awaiting the loser, this one suddenly takes on another guise.
“It is going to be a final,” claimed Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal in a press conference on Sunday. “Both teams want to win the group, and it is certainly going to be difficult to play Brazil in their own country in the World Cup.
“But we are not concentrating on that, only on trying to beat Netherlands.”
There was a lot of that. Both coaches added their own line regarding the need not to focus on Brazil, but the reality is that the final group game has a raised importance entirely because of the home side. If the rhetoric about this game being like a final is true, then that is exactly because Brazil are likely to await the losers.
For Chile in particular, the sight of their name alongside that of the five-time winners is not one they will relish. Three times they have reached the knockout stages in previous World Cup finals tournaments, and all three times they have been sent packing by Brazil.
But while in 1962 they were hosts, in 1998 they had the likes of Ivan Zamorano and Marcelo Salas in their ranks, and four years ago they were led by the legendary Marcelo Bielsa, this time around they feel they have something more in their favour, boasting probably the best ever generation of Chilean footballers.
“It’s difficult to talk about Brazil and what has happened before,” says Vidal. “On Monday we will just have to play to win and we will go step by step, but we do believe in ourselves.
“I guess this is Chile’s best generation. We have a lot of players playing outside of Chile and when we come back together we are very strong.”
But the Dutch side they face have quality too, and they will surely fancy their chances more against Brazil based on previous history. In four World Cup meetings, the Oranje have a 2-2 record against the Selecao, and even then one of their two defeats came only after a penalty shootout, in the 1998 semi-final in Marseille.
But if there was a clear motivation in Louis van Gaal’s anti-Fifa rant on Sunday, in which he claimed there was "unfair play" in the scheduling of Brazil’s fixtures, it was because he knows as well as anyone how tough they will be to knock off their perch in their homeland.
With the nation behind them last year Brazil became unstoppable, sweeping all-comers aside to win the Confederations Cup. They could quite easily do the same again this month, and neither Netherlands nor Chile will want to be stood in their path too early in the competition.
It is not winner takes all in Sao Paulo on Monday, but it sure does feel like it.Follow Kris Voakes on