The Seleccao ran out 2-0 winners at the Samara Arena despite Neymar’s theatrics.
During a week when World Cup favourites were seen exiting the tournament, one of the favourites, Brazil, went about their job quietly and without a fuss. Tite has had a job on his hands to lift a nation that suffered the ignominy of a 7-1 defeat on home soil in the semi-final of a World Cup last time out. However, since then, the team has undergone a drastic change in the way they approach games and how they function on the pitch.
It was no different here as Neymar and Roberto Firmino‘s goals on either side of the second half ensured that Brazil were safely through to the last eight of a World Cup that has had its share of upsets. Mexico, to their credit, did put upsurges of a fight, but given that they were up against a highly-organized and quality side like Brazil in full flow, the odds were always against El Tri.
Flair needs to be complemented by industry, a lesson for every team
A common issue that has plagued teams with technically gifted players is the lack of an alternate plan when things do not go their way. Spain’s approach of passing to the death without any one willing to make a direct run against the opposition full-backs was, needless to say, a disaster. Tite has easily one of the most gifted attacking contingents at his disposal. But, while all of them are outrageously talented and can pick a pass, it is how the team reacts when they don’t function which defines a holistic attack.
Willian’s integration into this Brazil lineup has been long coming and his direct running against the Mexican full-backs on either side of the pitch was easily the reason why Neymar and Phillipe Coutinho had spaces between the lines to operate in. He hasn’t been offered similar treatment at club level, something that is genuinely a pity considering how effective he is when on song. Just ask Barcelona.
In fact Neymar’s opener was a direct result of the pace that Willian offers. His combination play with Fagner on the right flank stretched the Mexican defence. The rise of the false #9 and inside forwards has nearly seen the death of the traditional winger. Willian’s show against Mexico is a lesson as to why he remains a consistent member of the Seleccao lineup.
Mexico may forever be a round of 16 team
They shocked Germany and put on a stellar show against South Korea. But, when it mattered, they lost out to Sweden to ensure that they would face Brazil in the Round of 16, a stage they haven’t crossed in the last four World Cups. Juan Carlos Osorio’s team were fast, energetic and enterprising. But, yet again, they had to depend on the heroics of their goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa to keep the scoreline from becoming a tennis score.
While they threatened in spurts, they were either dealt with comfortably by the Brazilians or were extremely wasteful when in good positions. The Brazilian full-backs in their forays forward were not equally efficient defensively and left open spaces on the sides for Hirving Lozano and Carlos Vela to exploit.
In one such moment in the second half, when Andres Guardado had the Brazilian centre -backs backtracking and Fagner completely losing Lozano, he needed to merely slide it to Lozano for a great goalscoring chance and instead went for glory. It is moments like these that a quality team exploits to good effect and Mexico’s failure to do this may have cemented their reputation as a Round of 16 side.
Brazil’s full-backs remain a spot of bother for Tite
The 7-1 defeat to Germany in 2014 was a case of Brazil’s full-backs being out of position and not being able to contain incessant German counter-attacks. While Marcelo is one of the best prototypes of a modern attacking full-back, his defensive capabilities are always questionable for both club and country.
Tite’s decision to start Filipe Luis over Marcelo was more oriented towards the former Chelsea man being a solid hand in defence. However, on more than one occasion, the full-backs either struggled to keep up with the Mexican wingers or were found to have lost their markers completely.
Mexico are a quality side, but they were unable to exploit this clear chink in an otherwise solid Brazilian machine. It would be something that Brazil’s next opponents in the quarterfinals would be completely aware of and something that Tite will need to fix sooner rather than later.