15:00 BST, Monday 2nd July, Samara Arena (Samara, Russia), BBC One
After an underwhelming group stage, by their standards, Brazil finally got their campaign underway in the fashion many expected of them with a much more convincing win over Serbia in their final Group E game.
Tite’s men now embark on their journey through the knockout rounds, hoping to deliver their sixth World Cup and go one better than their ill-fated semi-final appearance in 2014.
Mexico, by contrast, were forced to sweat for their spot in the last-16 as Germany began to pressurise South Korea whilst they were 3-0 down to Sweden. However, it was a South Korean that ultimately sealed El Tri’s passage into the knockout rounds.
With anything possible in knockout football, Juan Carlos Osorio will be hoping to reach Mexico’s first World Cup quarter-final since 1986.
Last Time Out
Serbia 0-2 Brazil
Brazil avoided a shock early exit with a comfortable 2-0 win over Serbia, coupled with the sort of performance to suggest that they’re relaxing into the tournament and are capable of living up to their tag of pre-tournament favourites.
Paulinho put Brazil 1-0 in front with a smart finish over the top of Vladimir Stojkovic from another brilliant Philippe Coutinho through ball, but this ushered in a period of sustained pressure from Serbia, though striker Aleksandar Mitrovic missed a number of key chances.
Read more on Brazil’s 2-0 victory over Serbia HERE.
Thiago Silva doubled the lead from Neymar’s corner to quell the bombardment and -coupled with the introduction of Fernandinho – they were able to close the game. It was a much-improved performance given Brazil’s opening two matches, though they’re still yet to move through the gears.
Mexico 0-3 Sweden
El Tri had to endure a tense end to the group stage as they imploded against Sweden and were at risk of exiting the World Cup despite winning their opening two games.
The Ekaterinburg Arena erupted, however, when news of South Korea’s late winner against Germany emerged and Mexico qualified in second.
This was not a performance worthy of the team that defeated the reigning world champions 1-0 in the first game, as they were susceptible to the counter-attack and found themselves 3-0 down in 24 second half minutes.
Read more on Mexico’s 3-0 defeat to Sweden HERE.
Ludwig Augustinsson put Sweden ahead after Viktor Claesson’s mis-hit shot fortunately fell to him, before an Andreas Granqvist penalty and a clumsy Edson Alvarez own goal made it three and put a comeback out of El Tri’s reach.
The big question is whether Marcelo will be fit to start against Mexico after coming off in the first half against Serbia with a back problem. If he isn’t, Filipe Luis will deputise.
It’s unlikely that Tite tinkers with a winning formula too much ahead of the last-16, but Gabriel Jesus’ performances have not been worthy of praise, and Roberto Firmino could come into the team ahead of him.
The Sweden game was the first time Juan Carlos Osorio named an unchanged XI in 51 games in charge of Mexico, so he could make a couple of changes to keep his side fresh ahead of their last-16 tie with Brazil.
Osorio, criticised in the past for excessive tinkering, will have questions of a different nature after El Tri’s poor performance against Sweden. Edson Alvarez – who scored an own goal – could be dropped, with Carlos Salcedo shifting to right back and Hugo Ayala coming in at centre back.
Key Battle: Casemiro (Brazil) vs Hector Herrera (Mexico)
Hector Herrera has been a key influence in Mexico’s strong group stage campaign, essential against Germany in terms of breaking up play and launching counter-attacks via Hirving Lozano and Carlos Vela and his industry in the engine room will be required once more against Brazil.
Casemiro, by contrast, plays a slightly different role for Brazil. Whilst still a defensive midfielder by nature, and one useful in quelling counter-attacks and providing defensive cover, the Selecao see a lot more of the ball and it’s here where the Real Madrid man serves more of a purpose.
When building from the back, Casemiro drops deep to receive the ball off Alisson Becker or one of the centre backs, looking to feed Coutinho, Paulinho or the front three. Just as Serbia attempted, Herrera will be crucial in closing Casemiro down quickly and forcing him to hit the ball long, hence disrupting their build-up play.
It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear
Just like the popular TV show ‘Friends,’ Brazil seem to have spent their tournament stuck in second gear. Dismal opening performances against Switzerland and Costa Rica highlighted a lack of creativity, with Brazil failing to demonstrate what they’re capable of.
However, a much-improved showing against Serbia was indicative of as much. The Selecao were slick going forwards – with Gabriel Jesus, Coutinho and Neymar linking up well – whilst retaining the defensive solidity which saw them concede only five goals in 21 games under Tite prior to the World Cup.
Mexico, though, have memories of their 3-0 defeat to Sweden burned into the back of their minds as they attempt to avoid a repeat implosion, so Brazil will need to find a higher gear to speed through to the quarter-finals.
Relax, take it easy
Perhaps one of the biggest differences between Brazil’s opening two games and their win over Serbia was Neymar’s temperament.
Against Switzerland and Costa Rica, the world’s most expensive player seemed determined to do everything himself without relying on his teammates at all. It meant he often found himself running into trouble, crowded space or taking shots on when a pass was preferred.
Neymar, however, was far more relaxed against Serbia. He let Coutinho shoulder more of the creative burden, resulting in an assist for the Barcelona midfielder and generally seemed more at ease.
Read RealSport’s analysis on why Neymar will win the Golden Boot HERE.
It’s clear that he wasn’t fully match sharp, but he’s growing into this tournament and his best is yet to come. Frustration still managed to seep in as he struggled top get his goal against Serbia, but it’s a positive that he’s playing more of a team – rather than individual – role.
Prediction: Brazil 2-1 Mexico
Brazil are far more defensively solid than Germany were and Mexico won’t have as much joy on the counter-attack, particularly with Casemiro prowling the middle third for exactly this danger.
One of the pre-tournament favourites, Brazil looked far better against Serbia and Tite will expect them to carry this level of performance into the knockout rounds as the competition gets more serious.
El Tri’s defeat highlighted how vulnerable they are themselves to the break and the interplay and movement of Jesus, Coutinho and Neymar will bamboozle this defence. Mexico are condemned to seventh consecutive last-16 exit.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss all the action from Day 15 of the World Cup in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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