Mexico just about made it out of their World Cup group and now face a very stiff test of their credentials when they take on Brazil in the last 16 in Samara on Monday (10:00am ET).
Victories over reigning champions Germany and then South Korea had put Mexico in a strong position not only to progress to the knockout stages but to do so as group winners coming into the final matchday of Group F, but they still came mightily close to elimination.
In contrast to their previous pair of strong performances, Mexico were never able to get going against Sweden. Their opponents were well-organised defensively and committed enough men forward to cause problems. An early second-half break saw them go ahead, before a converted penalty and an own goal from Edson Alvarez sealed a 0-3 defeat.
In normal circumstances that result would have sent Mexico packing. Germany just needed to record a one-goal victory over a South Korea side who had lost both of their preceding matches to confirm that fate. But South Korea held out well and then scored two late goals to record a famous victory, eliminate Germany and provide Mexico with salvation. Sweden progressed as group winners, with Mexico in second.
Finishing in that position in the group has somewhat complicated Mexico’s quest to reach the fabled “quinto partido” – the fifth match. In the last six World Cups, they have made it out of their group, only to suffer defeat in the first knockout round. At least three generations of players and five different coaches have tried and failed to progress further.
Russia 2018 seemed to offer the best chance in some time for Mexico to break that barrier. In their last three World Cup appearances, they have finished second in their group, leading to two last-16 ties against Argentina and another against the Netherlands. When they won their first two matches in Russia, it seemed the path was set for them to win their group and square off against Switzerland in the first knockout round.
The collapse against Sweden means that instead of Switzerland, they must face Brazil, the team who have won more World Cups (five) than any other, in a battle between serial underachievers and a well-oiled, title-winning machine.
Brazil’s progress through their group was more solid than spectacular. They drew 1-1 with Switzerland in their opener, scored two late goals to down Costa Rica and then produced a more well-rounded performance in the 2-0 win over Serbia that saw them top the group.
Tite’s side have lacked a bit of the verve they showed in qualification, but with a strong central defensive pairing, well-protected by Casemiro in front, and plenty of pace, trickery and imagination in attack, including the steadily improving Neymar, they are still formidable opponents. Philippe Coutinho is having an excellent tournament as their creative leader.
It is possible to pick out a few potential frailties. While they are solid in the centre of defence, progress can be made out wide. Fagner is a relative weak link on the right, while rapid advances down the left, where Coutinho is required to shuffle across to allow Neymar to remain up front, have yielded space there too. Goalkeeper Alisson hasn’t been entirely convincing. There has been a certain degree of imprecision in their attacking combinations.
Those are relatively minor problems. They have scored five goals to date, conceded just one and given up very few chances of real note. They have done all that without really looking particularly fluid. Tite also has good options to call on off the bench, including Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino, if his starting XI are unable to do what is required of them.
It will undoubtedly be an extremely difficult encounter for Mexico. Their victory over Germany in their opener was the perfect synthesis of exactitude in planning and excellence in execution. To repeat that against arguably stronger opponents – at least on showings in Russia – will require absolutely everyone to be spot on in everything they do.
Our Preview’s Mexico vs. Brazil Picks & Betting Predictions
Brazil are the favorites with the USA’s top online oddsmakers and can be expected to end Mexico’s World Cup campaign at the stage it pretty much always ends at: the last 16. Our Brazil vs Mexico match prediction and betting pick is this:
- Bet on Brazil -1.5 goals on the spread @ +150 with Bovada.