Didn’t have time to write a real preview this weekend, but here are a few pre-match thoughts:
1. The favorites are dropping like flies, but history is on Brazil’s side
Germany, Spain, Argentina…hell, I’ll even throw Portugal in there as they are the European champions. All have fallen.
At this point in the tournament, I’m not taking any match for granted. But it takes a truly extraordinary team – at least for that particular tournament – to knock out even the weakest Brazil sides. In fact, only ONCE in all of Brazil’s history have they lost a knockout match to a non-finalist: France in 1986. As dangerous as Mexico is, I don’t see them as that sort of caliber.
2. But Mexico can’t be underestimated
Brazil has an appalling habit of fielding vastly more talented sides only to lose to Mexico. The 2012 World Cup final – featuring many of the same players – comes to mind.
The fact is that talent alone can’t beat a football-mad nation like Mexico. Talent wasn’t enough in 1999, or 2007, or 2012, or even 2014. Nor was it enough for Germany a few weeks ago. It takes organization and spirit to overcome them, not talent. Tite will be well-served by studying what the Swedes did…and what their Teutonic brothers didn’t.
3. I’m a little worried about Filipe Luis
I bow to no one in my esteem for Filipe Luis. I thought Brazil benefited immensely from his presence against Serbia, thanks to his vertical passing from deep positions, his defensive awareness, and his ability to overlap.
But Mexico are going to look to counter with lightning speed down the flanks…and Filipe Luis, despite being nominally more defensive than Marcelo, is still very much an attacking left-back. There’s a lot of space to exploit when he gets forward. That alone might not be an issue, except that Filipe has lost any and all pace he once might have had.
It’s not his fault – age is catching up to him, and he’s suffered not one, but TWO devastating leg injuries in his career. It’s not only a miracle he’s here; it’s a miracle he didn’t become the next Fabio Aurelio.
Luis will need to compensate for his lack of pace by being even more positionally aware than usual. What I hope is that he focuses more on playmaking from deeper positions than getting forward. In other words, play more like Carlos Alberto and less like Roberto Carlos.
Regardless, Casemiro will need to be on his game, too. And if I’m Tite, I’m following his recent pattern and getting Paulinho out of the game as soon as possible in favor of either Fernandinho or Renato Augusto. Both are better in possession, and better at covering for rampaging full-backs.
4. Which Neymar will we get?
Mexico will try to wind Neymar up, I have little doubt. They’ve done it before, and they know that the angrier he gets, the more marginalized he becomes. Neymar was deservedly criticized against Switzerland, but I actually thought he started the match fairly well…until the fouls started. When Neymar is fouled, harassed, and baited, he begins to see the match as a personal thing. Himself vs The Enemy. A Quest for Revenge.
Against Serbia, Neymar was still not at his best, especially in the final third. But he played a calm, MATURE match, prioritizing simple decisions and possession. He must do that again, regardless of what provocations Mexico throws his way. In other words, we need this Neymar:
Instead of this Neymar:
And that’s all I have time for tonight. Use this post as the discussion thread for tomorrow’s match.