By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – After a frenetic end-to-end start in Samara Arena in Russia, Brazil’s stout defense and sparkling offense outlasted Mexico in a 2-0 win in the 2018 World Cup Round of 16 on Monday, July 2nd. With the win the Seleção will now face the winner of the Belgium-Japan match on Friday, July 6th.
Just an hour before game time today, Brazil confirmed that veteran Filipe Luis would join the starting eleven in place of star left-back Marcelo who was forced off the field due to back spasms in the club’s 2-0 win over Serbia in their final group match on June 27th.
On a sweltering ninety plus degree pitch, Mexico surprised most pre-game prognosticators, starting the match aggressively, choosing to press the pace offensively rather than sit back and counter.
Brazil’s defense held on though, surviving early threats from Mexico’s Andrés Guardado and Hirving Lozano.
Despite being on their heels for most of the period, particularly on their flanks, Brazil would slowly begin to retake ball possession as the first period wound down.
But, just as Brazil had done early on, Mexico’s defense would bend but not break, defending chances from Neymar and Coutinho.
After a scoreless first, Brazil stormed out to start the second with Coutinho launching a close-range rocket that was deftly blocked by Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa.
At the 51st minute, Brazil would finally break the game open. Off a quick counter attack, Neymar backheeled to Willian who returned a beautiful pass back to a sliding Neymar who poked the ball in for the 1-0 lead.
Ten minutes later, Mexico would almost draw even with Carlos Vela forcing Brazilian keeper Alisson to use every inch of his 6’3″ frame to make the leaping save.
With Mexico’s defense showing signs of fatigue, the Seleção began finding more and more space to operate. Only several spectacular saves from Ochoa keeping them in the game.
Finally, at the 87 minute mark, Brazil would put game away. Neymar streaked down the left side and found Roberto Ferminho down the middle who stabbed in the game’s second goal to seal the 2-0 win.
“We are always thought as an offensive team, but we have an incredible defense,” exclaimed Neymar after the game, referring to the club’s third clean sheet.
“The key was to play together with and without the ball,” said Willian. “We have to continue playing this way.”
With the win, Brazil now heads to the World Cup quarterfinals awaiting the winner of the Belgium-Japan match on Friday, July 6th.