Brazil made sure they would not follow the likes of Spain, Germany, Portugal and Argentina as one of the big-name casualties of this World Cup as they beat Mexico in a hard-fought 2-0 encounter in Samara.
Here are five things we learned from the Round of 16 game…
Mexico continue unwanted historic run
Brazil and Mexico had played each other four times over the history of the World Cup, with the fifth being the Round of 16 tie in Samara on Monday afternoon. Of those previous four, Brazil have won three and drawn one, scoring 11 goals and conceding zero.
And for all their huffing and puffing in Samara, they failed to do so again. There were plenty of attacks for Mexico but few of those turned into a test for Alisson as players opted for shots from range that were blocked rather than looking for more penetrating passes.
This World Cup has so far been a frustrating experience for Neymar, trying to recover his best physical form and technical rhythm while facing a succession of tough, disciplined opponents who rightly made him the focus of their defensive game plans. By half-time in Samara he had overtaken Spain playmaker Isco as the most fouled player in the tournament.
Mexico were no different in their treatment of him, with Carlos Salcedo taking a particular interest in Neymar with a couple of naughty challenges but Brazil will be happy with how little impact they seemed to have of their talisman, despite his over-the-top reactions at times. His recovery from his broken foot is right on schedule.
Mexico’s strength also their weakness
Mexico blew away Germany with the high-intensity, high-pressing in their first game but they were clearly feeling the effects of that during their surprise 3-0 loss to Sweden in the final group game. In the searing heat of Samara, they appeared to see themselves come undone again, except this time it was in the space of one half of football rather than three group games.
They were dominant in the opening 20 minutes, with the platinum-haired Javier Hernandez flanked by Carlos Vela and Hirving Lozano as they hustled, stretched and unsettled the Brazilian defence – but they failed to find that all-important goal. Brazil waited, bided their time, like a heavyweight boxer waiting for his opponent to tire himself out throwing heavy punches, and then ultimately knocked out Mexico.
How much longer for Jesus?
Tite has his team so settled that he was comfortable enough naming his starting XI months before the tournament and he did the same the day before facing Mexico. Arguably, the most sure of their positions are the attacking triumvirate of Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus, but with no goals so far, can the Manchester City man continue to keep Roberto Firmino out of the side?
Firmino has been impressive off the bench in holding up the play and bringing in other members of the team, whereas Jesus and flapped at many of his chances and did so again against Mexico. Tite will persevere with Jesus because he suits Brazil’s style, but he will need goals to justify that role as well.
At 1-0, and looking rather settled, Casemiro picked up his second yellow card of the tournament, but just how important that will be remains to be seen. His role in Real Madrid’s recent domination of the Champions League has not been understated and what he does for Brazil is equally as important.
Fernandinho will replace him in the quarter-finals, after which point all cards will be scrapped, but without Casemiro, how far will they get? He is the lynchpin in the midfield which allows Paulinho to roam forward and join in with the attack and is one of – if not the – most important player in the way Brazil set up. It also again raises the question of whether or not cards should be scrapped after the group stages as well.
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