Having looked on as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were sent home on Saturday, PSG superstar Neymar will return to action on Monday, the Brazil forward looking to help his side avoid the a similar defeat to the ones that befell Argentina and Portugal. Standing in his way will be a resilient Mexico side however, one which has already recorded a sensational upset victory over holders Germany earlier in the tournament.
Juan Carlos Osorio has drilled his El Tri side perfectly, making their 4-2-3-1 formation difficult to break down and lethal on the counter attack, his players working tirelessly to ensure the Coach’s plans are executed perfectly. Mexico’s plan to rest players in their final group game backfired somewhat, almost finding themselves eliminated courtesy of a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of a pumped up Sweden.
They will also undoubtedly be aware that they have been eliminated from the last six editions of the tournament at this stage, heading to the Samara Arena hoping to end that dismal run of results. But Brazil will be a formidable opponent, keeping a clean sheet in 10 of their last 13 World Cup matches while scoring at least two goals in 15 of their last 18 outings in the competition.
Coach Tite has discovered a balance to his favoured 4-3-3 setup, deploying Philippe Coutinho – who has scored or assisted at least one goal in each of Brazil’s last five matches – in midfield and Neymar on the left, allowing space for Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus down the middle. Playing with all their usual flair, this version of the Selecao benefits hugely from the presence of AS Roma goalkeeper Alisson, a player at the peak of his powers and who finds himself at the centre of intense transfer speculation linking him to Europe’s biggest clubs.
Of more immediate concern however will be an injury that has already ruled out Juventus winger Douglas Costa, while full-backs Danilo and Marcelo are both doubtful. The latter was forced off against Serbia with a back complaint, meaning Fagner and Filipe Luis may well need to deputise once again.
Their problems are further compounded by the threat of suspensions. Casemiro, Neymar and Coutinho are all one booking away from that fate, but they will take on a Mexico side who must cope without Hector Moreno, the defender banned for one match having received his second booking of the tournament in the loss to Sweden.
Hugo Ayala should deputise in the middle of the back line, but Osorio’s is not expected to make any other changes despite Hector Herrera, Miguel Layun and Jesus Gallardo all being just one booking away from serving a suspension themselves. Brazil are now tournament favourites and will expect to beat Mexico after overcoming their slow start to reach this stage as group winners.
Brazil (4-3-3): Alisson; Fagner, Thiago Silva, Joao Miranda, Marcelo; Philippe Coutinho, Casemiro, Paulinho; Willian, Gabriel Jesus, Neymar
Mexico (4-2-3-1): Guillermo Ochoa; Edson Alvarez, Carlos Salcedo, Hugo Ayala, Jesus Gallardo; Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera; Miguel Layun, Carlos Vela, Hirving Lozano; Javier Hernandez