Brazil vs. Mexico was one of the most anticipated matches in the Round of 16. El Tri looked to break the curse of the “Fifth Game” and make it to their first quarter finals match since 1986. Brazil, as favorites in this tournament, looked to continue their momentum and get one step closer to their record sixth title. Ultimately, the seleção prevailed, handing Mexico their seventh straight defeat in the first round of the knockoff stages with a 2-0 victory.
Coming into this game, each team faced lingering questions. For Mexico, were they going to be mentally up to the task, considering the convincing 3-0 defeat they faced against Sweden a few days earlier. As for Brazil, would Neymar step up like the leader he was made to be, despite being outshone and outscored by teammate Philippe Coutinho throughout the group stage. This would be answered while playing in the hottest and most humid conditions yet.
As the first half rolled on, Brazil struggled in establishing themselves offensively, turning the ball over and losing passes made to each other. Mexico, on the other hand, came out aggressive, intercepting balls and pressuring from the midfield. To add on, the attack, led by Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Carlos Vela, and Hirving “Chucky” Lozano played cohesively and with a purpose, creating several opportunities for one another. Only coming short because of long balls and the hustle of Brazilian defenders like Filipe Luis.
However, little by little, Brazil started to find its groove, with Gabriel Jesus getting more comfortable with every dribble, and him and Philippe Coutinho being able to take more open shots inside and outside the box. The goal was to keep Mexico’s goalkeeper Memo Ochoa on his toes. From all of the Brazilian players on the pitch, Willian showed out, having his best game of the tournament. At age 29, his pace was incomparable, being able to move past Mexico defenders effectively, while at the same time facilitate the ball movement from one side to another. The first half would end with both teams scoreless.
With the second half underway, it became clear that Brazil’s talent was taking over. Mexico were unable to keep up due to the exhaustion they were feeling. As a team who is known for being deadly on the counterattack, Mexico failed to maximize their strengths, due to Brazil being able to read their plays and defend accordingly. In addition, Brazil was also able to clear threats that Mexico created off of set pieces.
It wasn’t until the 50th minute that the deadlock was broken. As Neymar dribbled the ball outside the box, Mexico’s defenders made him their primary focus. This allowed him to get a good look and produce a cheeky backheel pass to an open Willian. Willian then broke away towards the left side of the box and succinctly crossed the ball past Ochoa. His ball found Neymar who had made the run inside, sliding the ball in with his right foot. Brazil led 1-0.
Eventually, Brazil’s dominance shone out, having 10 of their 21 shots be on goal, as opposed to Mexico’s one shot on goal, out of 13. Ochoa proved to be Mexico’s most valuable player, making a total of eight saves throughout the game. Compared to Mexico, Brazil’s substitutions also proved to be superior. Both Robert Firmino and Fernandinho immediately made an impact.
Any chance of Mexico making a comeback was thwarted in the 88th minute. Fernandinho intercepted the ball midfield and passed to Neymar, who made the run facing no opposition and flicked it past Ochoa to the other side of the goal. Firmino tapped it in to get his first goal in the tournament and extending the lead to 2-0.
The Final Word
While Mexico was outplayed by a better team, several questions arose in regards to the decisions made by Coach Juan Carlos Osorio. For starters, why would he start a 39-year-old Rafael Marquez, who, despite his veteran experience, is past his prime? He eventually needed to be subbed off at half time, due to exhaustion. This was instead of starting full-back Miguel Layun, who is a better conditioned two-way player. Despite being down 1-0, there was still an opportunity to equalize, and with that in mind, needed to make necessary changes to unleash an offensive attack. The necessary pieces, such as Jesus “Tecatito” Corona and Giovani Dos Santos remained on the bench, however.
This is a Brazil team that has slowly been getting better throughout every game. They have world-class players that are improving their chemistry on the pitch. There were concerns over not having pivotal defender Marcelo available due to injury, considering his presence not only on the defensive end, but also on offense. Nevertheless, Filipe Luis rose to the occasion to keep Mexico’s attacks at bay. However, they will also lose midfield player Casemiro in the next match, due to a yellow card.
Brazil will take on Belgium in the Quarter Finals on Friday, July 6, at 1 PM CT.