The road to the “quinto partido” ends here. Like we all expected from the beginning (although no one could have predicted how we got to this point) Mexico will face Brazil in the Round of 16 of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, with a ticket to the long, lost quarterfinals that Mexico so passionately wants on the line.
It’s expected to be a very fun and entertaining matchup. Mexico and Brazil have a lot of history, one that mostly favors Brazil. La verdeamarela have played El Tri in 40 official matches, winning 23, drawing seven and losing 10 to Mexico. Brazil may have the better record, but El Tri has still stolen some very important wins from them in the past at all levels. And, of course, who could forget that fantastic 2014 group stage match between the two sides?
FMF State of Mind’s very own Antonio Tinajero reached out to one-half of the Canary and Blue Podcast Chase Haislip, who answered some questions from the Brazilian supporter perspective about tomorrow’s matchup.
AT: So far, what has most impressed you about this México team?
CH: Definitely their counterattack, and it’s the component of their game that worries me the most from a Brazilian perspective. The chemistry between Chicharito and Carlos Vela allows them to break out quickly, and the speed of Hirving Lozano will strike fear in almost any left back in the world. Their performance against Germany illustrates their ability to sit deep and soak up pressure, and I imagine they will look to execute a similar strategy against Brazil.
AT: I think most people expected Brazil to dominate with an iron fist at the World Cup. Like they did in qualifying, and with attacking options like Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, Coutinho and Willian, most people expected lots of goals from Brazil yet that hasn’t been the case. They’ve dominate their games in other ways but what can you say about their general performance so far and how they reacted to their expectations on the pitch?
CH: Brazil’s performance in the first two matches showed signs of weakness, but they seem to be peaking at just the right moment, and had their best performance of the World Cup in the final match of the group stage against Serbia. Tite did not play Coutinho in the midfield during qualifying, instead opting for a more compact midfield combination of Casemiro - Paulinho - Renato Augusto. The placement of Coutinho into the midfield (and the introduction of Willian to take Coutinho’s spot on the right wing) is a relatively new formation for this side, and it has taken time for the team to find their chemistry. Luckily, it appears they are finding form at just the right time. Also, their ability to get results without their star players scoring goals illustrates Brazil’s variety in attack. Whether it’s through their traditional goalscorers, Paulinho running from midfield, or their centre-backs off set pieces, they can win matches in a number of different ways. Lastly, an underrated facet of Brazil under Tite has been their defensive solidity. They conceded very few goals in qualifying, and the same can be said about the team in this World Cup. They are very compact at the back.
AT: Brazil’s sporting some backup full backs right now due to injury. In case Marcelo or Danilo don’t return, would this be a weakness México could exploit, or are Fagner and Filipe Luis capable of stopping El Tri’s attacks on the wings?
CH: I believe both Fagner and Luis are outstanding bench options, and would start for most teams at the World Cup. If I were forced to choose a player I were more concerned about facing Mexico, it would likely be Fagner, simply because he is squaring up against Lozano, who has been so dangerous both for PSV and the Mexican National Team.
AT: Mexico captain Andres Guardado recently sent out a sort of warning to referees about Neymar’s ability to exaggerate fouls. Any comment on that?
CH: Neymar’s exaggeration of fouls has become a talking point at this World Cup, in particular his rolling across the pitch after being fouled in the Serbia match. It should be noted, however, that Neymar is the most fouled player in this competition, and having watched all of Brazil’s matches very closely, there are a number of fouls committed against him that go uncalled. He will be targeted by Mexico, and rightly so - he is Brazil’s best player. The referee will have the responsibility of balancing both the fact that Mexico will be looking to foul and kick him almost every time he touches the ball with the fact that Neymar has a history of playacting to get protection from officials.
AT: Mexico used the counterattack against Germany to get the job done. Many think they could do the same against Brazil, but their back line does a great job of staying back and linking up with Casemiro, so scoring on counterattacks will not come easy. In your opinion, what’s the biggest weakness Brazil has that Mexico could exploit?
CH: Tite’s preferred lineup features a midfield of Casemiro - Paulinho - Coutinho. Coutinho is not a traditional midfielder. He is most comfortable in the attacking third stringing passes together and least comfortable tracking runners. Although Paulinho is more defensive, he is still more of a box-to-box player rather than a traditional defensive midfielder. This leaves Casemiro to do much of the “clean-up” work for this side. Additionally, both Luis and Fagner will have the responsibility of getting forward to contribute to the attack. Brazil will look to control possession and take the sting out of the match by working the ball around Mexico. If Mexico is able to swipe the ball off Brazil in dangerous positions and get Lozano in one-on-one situations against Miranda and Thiago Silva, both of whom are on the slower side, they could cause real problems for Brazil.
AT: Now, in contrast, what should México be most afraid of come Monday against La Verdeamarela?
CH: Coutinho is the pace-setter for this Brazil team in their current formation. He is pulling the strings, dictating play, providing the key passes. He scored against Switzerland and Costa Rica, and assisted the opening goal against Serbia with a beautiful ball over the top to Paulinho. Mexico must keep Coutinho off the ball and force other players to dictate tempo. Additionally, despite Coutinho’s inspired performances, Neymar is still Brazil’s best player, and always has the ability to score goals out of nothing. Mexico cannot leave him isolated in the attacking third.
AT: Both of these countries share the title of being the only countries to make it to the knockout rounds in every World Cup since 1994. Something’s gotta give. Will Mexico crumble under the pressure yet again, or can they upset La Canarrinha one more time?
CH: At the beginning of the tournament, I mentioned Mexico as an opponent I was fearful of Brazil playing, particularly early in the knockout rounds. Mexico never believe they are beaten, and their style of play and tactical approach may cause problems for Brazil. However, I believe Brazil simply have too much fire power, and I also believe Mexico peaked early in this tournament, and are now struggling for confidence. The absence of Moreno will also be a big advantage for Brazil.
AT: Score prediction? And who scores the goals?
CH: 2-0, Neymar and Jesus to find the back of the net for Brazil. I do believe it will be an entertaining match, however, one of the best of this round of the tournament.
Huge thank you to Chase and the Canary and Blue Podcast for their contribution!
Listen to their Brazil vs. Mexico preview episode