The opening 20 minutes of Mexico versus Brazil couldn’t have gone any better from an El Tri perspective. Carlos Vela and Andres Guardado were finding joy on the left with Fagner looking set for a nightmare. Chucky looked dangerous. But more importantly, Philippe Coutinho and Neymar hardly got a sniff of the ball with Rafa Marquez, Edson Alvarez and Hugo Ayala all taking turns putting the Brazilians on their backs.
The final 25 minutes of the first half saw Mexico lose some degree of control. Coutinho began finding pockets of space; Neymar found himself in some one-on-one situations, and a peppering of Memo Ochoa’s net had begun.
At the half, Juan Carlos Osorio’s decision to start Marquez — which had worked well enough over the course of the opening 45 — was revealed as a ridiculous sort of stopgap. The 39-year-old had to make way for Miguel Layun, and the start of the second half was dictated by Brazil.
First, Coutinho was allowed to cut inside the box, working his way closer and closer to Ochoa’s goal. His stinging shot was saved by the keeper, but the warning signs were all there.
In the 51st minute, that breakthrough arrived. The Neymar effect was on full display: the PSG forward took possession on the left, sprinted across the top of the box — taking three or four Mexico players with him — before laying off a clever back heel for Willian.
The Chelsea attacker’s first touch was breathtaking. He scythed through the box before sending a dangerous, low ball across the face of goal. There was Neymar, who’d continued his run after playing in Willian, to tap-in from close range. It was a glorious goal for the Selecao.
6 - Neymar has scored six goals from 38 shots in World Cup tournaments - it took Lionel Messi 67 shots and Cristiano Ronaldo 74 shots to reach this goal tally at the World Cup. Icon. #BRA #MEX #BRAMEX #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/RiSPxMgzja— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 2, 2018
For all of Mexico’s combinations on the counter and evident attacking purpose, it wasn’t until the 61st minute that Vela cut inside and forced Alisson into his first save.
The ideas were clearly there, but a bit of quality was obviously missing in the final third. It was a hugely disappointing 60 minutes from Chicharito, and Hector Herrera probably had his worst game of the tournament. However, we should probably start talking about Brazil's defense and midfield balance — it's of the World Cup-winning quality. (Belgium will be delighted to know that Casemiro misses the quarterfinal via yellow card suspension.)
The introductions of Raul Jimenez and Jonathan dos Santos did nothing to turn the tides, although Layun and Neymar had a truly bizarre exchange in the 71st minute.
Layun could’ve certainly been punished for stomping on the Brazilian’s ankle right in front of the fourth official, but Neymar responded with a two-footed kick out at the Mexican before elegantly turning his bit of violence into a combination roll/scream/modern dance interpretation of what it’s like to be crushed underneath the wheels of a bulldozer.
I’m fine with Layun escaping punishment because look at this clown.
— Milo (@milovibes) July 2, 2018
Regardless, the Neymar effect came to the fore again when setting up Roberto Firmino for the dagger in the 88th minute.
Neymar: unplayable in one-on-one situations, one of the only consistent creative forces in international football and backed by an incredibly formidable defense and midfield. He’s just got the pain threshold of a three-year-old.