Brazil did the business against Mexico in Samara on Monday to book their place in the World Cup quarter-final for the seventh consecutive tournament.
Neymar made himself the centre of attention once again as the PSG forward scored one and made one in the 2-0 win for Tite’s side – but more amateur dramatics continued to leave a bad taste.
Still, the South Americans did enough to set up a last-eight clash against either Belgium or Japan – but what did we learn from an afternoon when the Selecao showed their teeth with it really mattered?
When it comes to Neymar, the positives still far outweigh the negatives
Few players divide emotions like Neymar, and performances like his against Mexico are exactly why that is the case. The PSG forward effectively won the game for Brazil with a goal and an assist in the second half, and yet he is being talked about just as much for a needless bit of theatrics following an altercation with Miguel Layun (an incident which, to be fair, should have resulted in a card for the Mexico defender.
— Alan Shearer (@alanshearer) July 2, 2018
It’s hard to warm to Neymar the person, even if it’s impossible to feel anything other than admiration as a player. It’s a conflicting juxtaposition that makes it hard to actively root for a player who is so obviously brilliant yet tarnishes it with moments of histrionics.
Assuming there is more of the former than the latter, Brazil will progress deeper into this tournament – however, there’s a streak in Neymar that Brazil (or Japan) should actively look to exploit in the last eight.
What more does Roberto Firmino have to do to get into this team?
By scoring the second goal just over 90 seconds after entering the fray, Firmino made more of an impact in five minutes in today’s match than Gabriel Jesus made in 90 – and yet, the likelihood is that the Manchester City man will continue to lead the line against either Japan or Belgium.
Wonder if Firmino has done enough to play his way into #BRA team for quarter-final? Made an impression in each substitute appearance I’ve seen. Jesus a very good player, but not been in great form. Firmino sure looks like he is.
— Neil Jones (@neiljonesgoal) July 2, 2018
Jesus is, for all intents and purpose a brilliant player, but he’s not a man in form right now. He’s done fairly well thus far, but a record of four goalless goals in as many games has to raise a few questions. Firmino, in contrast, has two goals from three cameo appearances and has generally looked more confident.
If it is a straight shootout between Firmino and Jesus, as one presumes it is, then the former has surely done enough by now to earn a start.
Brazil have the mettle to match their style
This wasn’t quite the all-encompassing samba style that Brazil fans love to see from their team, but it was no less impressive for it. This was an intelligent performance from Tite and his side, one which was prepared for the Mexican wave and were able to respond to it.
As soon as Mexico tired, to be expected given their early ferocity under the sweltering conditions, Brazil were ready to pounce. There was a certain ruthlessness with how they went about their business – and though they desperately need Marcelo back (see below), there’s a control about this team that will take some stopping.
However, their backup full-backs are a weak point
In a perfect world, Dani Alves and Marcelo would be marauding down the flanks for Brazil, creating width and a dangerous added dimension for the sides’ attacks. Instead, with the former missing the tournament altogether and the latter suffering with a back injury, Tite has utilised Fagner and Filipe Luis in those positions – and the results have not been as good.
vela has been absolutely destroying fagner for 20 minutes now. we’re approaching first-half substitution territory
— Ken Early (@kenearlys) July 2, 2018
There is little doubt that Brazil have been missing Alves in Russia, and any prolonged absence of Marcelo would be equally detrimental. It forces the manager to rethink what has been a successful tactical formula and makes Brazil look narrower as a result.
Mexico started brightly, but faded badly
Thankfully, Mexico were more like the side that surprised Germany than that which laboured a bit in the two subsequent group games. They started well, with Hirving Lozano, in particular, looking sharp.
However, they couldn’t maintain it, and endeavour eventually gave away to a talented Brazil side that knew how to manage the game to a better degree. Indeed, but for a strong showing from Guillermo Ochoa (eight saves, a record bettered only by himself against Germany), it could have been more emphatic.
Mexico have earned increased levels respect and kudos at this tournament – but, ultimately, they have fallen at the last 16 for the seventh World Cup running, and that is all they will care about.