Diaz, reunited with his father, leads Colombia to historic win over Brazil

Football has come up with a storyline so improbable, yet so sensationally right, that had it been presented as a work of fiction it would surely have been rejected as being too contrived.

But it happened — and in the future the last few days in the family of Liverpool striker Luis Díaz may well be turned into a film. The father of Luis Diaz was recently kidnapped back in Colombia, and was freed last Thursday after the ordeal of almost two weeks in captivity. There was no need for Diaz senior to go to Liverpool for a father and son reunion. The fixture calendar had arranged it so that the son was making the journey across the Atlantic.

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A week after his father regained his freedom, Diaz was leading the Colombia attack in the magnificent stadium of Barranquilla — the big city closest to where he grew up and where his family still live, and the city where his career got started. The game could not have been more glamorous — at home to Brazil, the only opponent that Colombia had never beaten in World Cup qualifying.

Brazil came out like a train and took an early lead. Diaz was carrying the fight. He was twisting the blood of the Brazilian defenders. But the ball would not go in. The harder he tried the more frustrated he seemed. Defeat seemed inevitable. Brazil had the chance to finish things off on the counter attack. But as the pressure built — and you could almost hear the heroic music striking up in the background — it was Diaz who won the day.

All his shots had fallen on barren ground, so he made the difference with his head, glancing home one cross from the left and another from the right for a 2-1 win. The crowd chanted the name of his father, who was overcome with joy in the stands. The mentor and the first coach of his son, this was a moment that he will surely cherish for ever. And roll the credits.

After a deep breath it is worth diving deeper and dissecting these extraordinary events. Because amid all the human drama there is a fascinating tale of football to be told — and much of it has to do with Fernando Diniz, Brazil’s fascinating stand-in coach.

Diniz has just won the Copa Libertadores with Fluminense. He is finding life with the national team much harder. It is not surprising. He has no experience at the level and he has little training time to implement his unorthodox methods. Last month’s displays — a draw at home to Venezuela and a defeat away to Uruguay — were extremely poor. And now he finds himself without Neymar, as well as first choice keeper Éderson and team leader Casemiro.

A time to hunker down and play it safe? No way. That is not how Diniz has made his name. He had to go bold — and so he selected a front four — Raphinha on the right, Gabriel Martinelli on the left and the Real Madrid pair of Rodrygo and Vinícius Júnior through the middle. And the team kicked off with such fierce intensity that it was not the slightest surprise when they took the lead in the third minute, Vinícius setting up a goal for Martinelli. Vinicius soon had to limp off, and Diniz could have tightened up with an extra midfielder. But he brought on Brighton striker Joao Pedro, and retained the front four. It was a dangerous game.

Brazil’s attempts to play their way out of defence kept putting them in danger. Diaz was finding alarming pockets of space. Perhaps the key takeaway from the match is that if a team is unable to control events in midfield, then defensive defects will inevitably be exposed. And in Brazil’s case, the problem was the full-backs.

Right-back Emerson Royal had a torrid time trying to deal with Diaz. and there was a moment on the other flank when the Colombian winger was faster running with the ball than left-back Renan Lodi running without it. When possible, Marquinhos came out from centre-back to try and do an individual marking job on Diaz. But teams defend as a collective unit, and without enough protection from the midfield, Brazil’s full-backs creaked. As Colombia turned the tables, the full-backs were unable to stop the crosses coming in, and for the winning goal Royal could not cope with the determination of Diaz in the air.

And so Colombia had their historic win and — inevitably and correctly — the headlines will all go to Luis Diaz. The only unbeaten side left in the field, Colombia climb to third in the table. Brazil, meanwhile, descend to fifth — and they would be a place lower if Ecuador had not been docked three points for administrative irregularities in the previous campaign. The next test for Brazil is on Tuesday when they face world champions Argentina.

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