BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil — Brazil is not getting enough help from its strikers when it needs them most at the World Cup, and the lack of attacking options nearly proved fatal on Saturday.
Apart from team star Neymar, the team's top forwards have disappointed at their home tournament and were lackluster again on Saturday, when Brazil secured its place in the quarterfinals.
Brazil avoided a humiliating elimination with a 3-2 penalty shootout win against Chile following a 1-1 draw after extra time.
Neymar was not at his best, while Fred and Hulk failed to provide the spark that the five-time world champions needed. Jo, who came on as a substitute, made little impression.
Brazil's lone goal was scored by defender David Luiz in the first half.
"We struggled a lot, but in the end it all worked out," Fred said. "We know in our heads that we have to improve. But what mattered today is that we advanced, even with the difficulties."
Fred is the only central striker to have scored for Brazil so far. Neymar has four of the team's eight goals, with Luiz, Oscar and Fernandinho getting the others.
Hulk had the worst day of them all on Saturday.
First he made a mistake in defense that led to Chile's equalizer in the first half. He then had a goal disallowed for a handball in the second period, and in the penalty shootout Hulk was one of the Brazil players who missed from the spot, along with Willian.
Fred has struggled for the entire tournament and was ineffective again on Saturday at the Mineirao Stadium, being jeered by part of the crowd when he was substituted in the 64th minute. He had two good chances in the first half but couldn't capitalize on them. His lone goal of the tournament was in the 4-1 win over Cameroon, when Brazil was leading 2-1.
Jo replaced Fred against Chile and looked just as weak, making basic mistakes and not creating any significant threat to Chile's defense.
"I think the important thing is the squad is united, regardless of failures," Brazil captain Thiago Silva said.
The other attacking option for coach Luiz Felipe Scolari is youngster Bernard, who also hasn't done much in the few minutes he has played as a substitute in the tournament so far.
When Hulk wasn't available for one of the group matches, Scolari used midfielder Ramires a replacement, instead of picking another striker.
Brazil hasn't had a star striker since Ronaldo stopped playing after the 2006 World Cup. Luis Fabiano was the team's starter in the 2010 tournament in South Africa.
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