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Brazil cruised into the quarter-finals of the World Cup on Monday as goals from Neymar and substitute Roberto Firmino gave them a 2-0 victory over Mexico to stay on course for a sixth title.
Neymar was criticised for his early performances in Russia as he eased his way back to fitness after a broken foot bone, but he carved open a tough Mexican defence to score one and assist the other.
Here, we analyse the performance of the Samba star.
There’s an irony to Neymar’s play in that he spends most of Brazil’s contests on the deck, yet time and time again rises to produce the knockout blow.
A boxing analogy is misleading, though, because the 26-year-old is an infuriating blend of dazzling ability and irritating frailty. We saw the good, the bad and the sublime against Mexico. He drifted out to the left and cut inside frequently with fancy footwork to great effect, once in the build-up to his opener and then as his shot squeezed through for Firmino to finish.
Of course, the play acting overshadowed his display, but beyond the unnecessary theatrics, he produces pure drama when on the ball.
Selfless – Not often you can say this about Neymar but when he invites his teammates to shoulder some creative burden, it is to Brazil’s benefit. An obvious example was in the opener as his run drew in Mexico defenders before shifting the ball for Willian to cross.
Production – The Paris Saint-Germain forward is starting to elevate himself into the ‘World Cup star’ role and according to Opta he’s now attempted the most shots (23), had most shots on target (12) as well as created the most goalscoring chances for his teammates (16) at this tournament.
Play acting – Neymar is chasing a Ballon d’Or but if he continues in this vein, he’ll be in line for an Oscar. It’s difficult to appreciate his brilliance when he negates it with his childish theatrics.
Scored one, assisted another and rolled about. Simple synopsis for the Brazilian but in pure footballing terms, he’s the undoubted hero, even if he does try his absolute best to be the villain as well.
All statistics are compiled using whoscored.com
Ochoa stopped eight of Brazil’s 10 shots on target to give him a tournament-leading 20 saves in Russia, but he couldn’t get in front of strikes from Neymar in the 51st minute and Roberto Firmino in the 88th minute.
Check out our player ratings for Mexico, with Ochoa naturally leading the way.
Guillermo Ochoa – A couple of uncertain early moments but later produced great stops from Coutinho, Paulinho and Willian. Unlucky to be a loser. 8
Edson Alvarez – Booked for fouling Neymar in the first half and was replaced early in the second half to avert the risk of a red. 5
Hugo Ayala – Strong in the centre of defence, helping to subdue Jesus with a series of tackles and interceptions. 7
Carlos Salcedo – As bright as his bleached blond hair in the centre of defence, he battled for everything and regularly showed great anticipation. 7
Jesus Gallardo – Tried to get forward from his left-back position and sent one long-range shot curling over the bar after a storming run. 6
Hector Herrera – Had a shot blocked on the edge of the box in Mexico’s lively start, but less of a factor later and was overrun by Willian. 6
Rafael Marquez – Statesmanlike in the middle of the pitch at the start, but soon ran out of puff and came off at half-time. 6
Andres Guardado – A tireless runner, getting forward to dangerous effect and chasing back to support his defence. 7
Carlos Vela – Made a lightning star with his direct running. Came close with a long-range strike, Mexico’s only shot on target. 7
Javier Hernandez – Got into dangerous positions early on but was rarely found and became a fringe presence before being replaced. 5
Hirving Lozano – Had an early shot blocked and was a constant threat down the flank, also working hard off the ball. 7
Miguel Layun – Had the task of shackling Neymar in the second half and adopted a very physical approach to that challenge. 5
Jonathan dos Santos – Came into the centre of the pitch early in the second half and showed plenty of energy with creating much. 6
Raul Jimenez – Replaced Hernandez for the final half hour but his teammates couldn’t exploit his aerial power and he struggled. 5
Brazil’s World Cup credentials were well established in a convincing 2-0 win over a dangerous Mexico side at Samara Arena on Monday.
Along with the team, Neymar had his best performance of the tournament yet as he ran riot down the left flank and opened the scoring in the 51st minute.
As Mexico went in search for an equaliser, substitute Robert Firmino profited from some more good work by Neymar with two minutes on the clock as he followed in his shot for a tap-in.
Tite won the tactical battle in the dugout as his clever tweaks helped navigate Brazil past their worthy opponents.
Goals – 2
Shots – 20
Possession – 50%
Tackles – 22
Dribbles – 15
Tite set his side up in their usual 4-3-3 formation although Felipe Luis stepped in for the injured Marcelo at left-back, while Fagner retained his place ahead of Danilo on the opposite side.
The Brazilians were forced to weather the storm early on as Mexico used the flanks to good effect, launching dangerous attacks that went around Selecao’s three-man midfield.
Juan Carlos Osorio’s side posed a supreme counter-attacking threat and Tite tried to guard against it, even keeping three men back on the halfway line when they had a corner. They gradually grew into the game though and shifted the ball well, testing Guillermo Ochoa in Mexico’s goal on several occasions.
TACTICAL TALKING POINTS
Switch to the left
Brazil’s play is usually concentrated down the left flank with Philippe Coutinho, Neymar and Marcelo all occupying that side but in the left-back’s absence, there was a distinct alteration in their build-up play.
Their passing against Mexico was largely focused down the right but they would execute a quick switch to the opposite side where the likes of Neymar, Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus could exploit the space.
With the young Edson Alvarez playing at right-back, it was a deliberate ploy that worked well in creating several chances, including the one for the goal.
It hasn’t always been vintage Brazil at this World Cup, but Tite has ensured that there’s been a generous spattering of flair to go with a guarded structure in behind. That was never more evident than during this victory.
There was some superb attacking play that set the pulse racing but Mexico tested their defence and thanks to Tite’s pragmatic side, Brazil were equipped to deal with that threat. With Marcelo injured, even the full-backs tended to hold back to deny the North Americans too much space in the transition. It was all very precise and effective.
Rating – 8/10