Mexico‘s victory over Germany shocked the footballing world, but not for too long. The way they put the world champions, who have since been eliminated from the World Cup, on the back foot with their high press, meant that they were soon taken seriously. They followed it up with a 2-1 win over South Korea, but a 3-0 defeat to Sweden saw the Scandinavians top Group F; next up, as a result, is a clash with five-time winners Brazil.
Juan Carlos Osorio will be far from pleased with that; Switzerland, who they looked all set to face, are far from pushovers having only lost once in two years, but their organised, compact style is much easier to manage than the Selecao’s attacking quality. With Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus on the pitch, Brazil are undoubtedly going to be a threat, and that will put a Mexican defence that was torn apart by Sweden last week under severe pressure. Carlos Vela, Miguel Layun. Javier Hernandez and, the man of the moment, Hirving Lozano will give Tite’s side something to think about, too. Of all the last 16 ties, this one could be the most open.
In any game where the attacks take centre stage, the midfield can decide the winner. Both of these teams’ strengths lie up front, but Mexico will believe they can come out on top in midfield. Osorio’s side has a good balance to it, which allows the four stars in attack to press from the front. Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera sit deep and keep the shape while controlling the tempo. Brazil have great creativity, but they lack a forward-thinking player deeper on the pitch; Casemiro breaks the play up by himself. In both an attacking a defensive sense, Herrera will be crucial to Mexico’s chances of progressing to the quarter finals.
It is hard to see Mexico going all the way to win the World Cup, but this game is vital for the entire country. The ‘curse of the fifth game’ has hung over them like a dark cloud since the 1994 World Cup; they have not got past the first knockout round in 24 years, and they would have preferred to have avoided Brazil at this relatively early stage in the competition. But for long periods of their three group games, particularly against Switzerland and Costa Rica, they were far from convincing and unable to break through deep defences. Mexico will go after them and put them on the back foot; it will be interesting to see how that impacts the way the game plays out.
With or without the lion share of possession, Mexico are efficient in attack, taking 13 shots despitr keeping the ball for under 40% of the game against Germany; Lozano is at the heart of everything on the left of their midfield. Herrera always looks to play the ball forward, and he will try to play the 22-year-old PSV Eindhoven winger in with any opportunity, especially with Brazil’s weakness clearly at right-back. Paris Saint-Germain’s Dani Alves was expected to play In his final World Cup before he picked up an injury. Fagner, the 29-year-old Corinthians defender with just a handful of caps to his name, has come in and struggled, while Manchester City’s Danilo is another option, but neither will be too pleased to face Lozano.
There isn’t too much movement in the middle of the park for either team, but if, as expected, Tite plays Casemiro on his own with Paulinho and Coutinho ahead of him with license to get forward, it could put the Real Madrid man under intense pressure, with Herrera looking to supply the trio in behind Hernandez. Mexico’s aim is to get as close to the opposing box as possible to get the West Ham striker into the game; there aren’t many more potent when the ball is in the right area. But Herrera and Guardado rarely get forward themselves, so Brazil’s opportunities on the counter attack may be significantly reduced if Casemiro is pinned back.
If Fred, Manchester United’s new midfielder, comes in and the system changes, it could be a different story. But Brazil don’t change for anyone, and an open game will suit Mexico perfectly. Tradition, history and quality make Brazil favourites for this game, but tactically, it will be such an intriguing matchup.
Brazil will target the wide areas, particularly if Marcelo is fit enough to start. Sweden found joy out wide against Mexico, but playing through them will be such a challenge, especially for a team without a passing master in the middle.
There is no doubting Brazil will be confident, and Mexico will have to dust themselves down after the Sweden defeat. The Selecao should win in reality, but counting Germany’s conquerors out is dangerous; they must be wary of them in the midfield battle before thinking about getting Neymar and co. into the game.
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