Brazil is meeting Mexico in a contrasting match to determine what will be the fifth quarter final spot of the ongoing 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Five-time world champions, Brazil, started shakily with a 1-1 draw against Switzerland, before consolidating with consecutive 2-0 victories over Costa Rica and Serbia.
Mexico on the other hand, started supremely with an unexpected victory over defending champions, Germany, but survived elimination despite a demoralising 3-0 defeat to Sweden; only qualifying due to South Korea’s victory over Germany.
The Selecao calmly tackled the potential banana skin encounter against Serbia, unruffled in defence while doing the needful in front of goal.
By and large, Brazil has been workmanlike thus far, progressing comfortably without exhilarating.
Barring a tense phase in the second half against Serbia, the defence has looked composed but the offence more or less has looked disjointed.
An explanation for the misfiring offence could be Brazil’s over reliance on playmaker, Philippe Coutinho.
Paired alongside defensive midfielder, Casemiro and box to box midfielder, Paulinho, the onus lies on Coutinho to release the talented attacking trio of Neymar, Jesus and Willian.
With two goals and an assist to boot, he required more adventurous partners against an enterprising Mexico lineup.
Fernandinho, the Manchester City midfielder, could be a viable option, with his experience to play short and long passes as well as shoot from distance. The attack too hasn’t linked well.
Neymar by and large has been frustrated and isolated on the left wing due to a lack of combination between him and striker, Gabriel Jesus.
Roberto Firmino, a bustling and selfless forward could be the ideal foil for Neymar as he occupied defenders and created space for Neymar to run into the box.
Firmino’s intangible qualities could be the catalyst for a more free flowing offence.
Brazil will look to change their pragmatic approach against a proactive Mexico to progress further.
Juan Carlos Osorio, the Colombian manager of Mexico, repeated a lineup for the first time in his nearly two and a half years at the helm against Sweden.
The result, though, was far from desired, a morale sapping loss to a motivated and physically imposing side.
Failing to convert their many chances in the first half, they let their guard down after Sweden’s opener, as they got overran and overpowered in midfield.
Their central defensive pairing of Hector Moreno and Carlos Salcedo, who looked assured in the first two games, looked rattled against a driving Swedish offence and will have to be at their best against the Brazilians.
Hector Herrera and Andres Guardado are the midfield engine of the team and will be required to last the distance against Brazil.
Partnering Guardado and Herrera in midfield, is the versatile wingback, Miguel Layun.
Electric in counters, he is more of a driving presence than a creative one, and Osorio may choose to replace him with Marco Fabian, a more traditional number ten, who will occupy deeper positions and release the likes of Hirving Lozano and Javier Hernandez into scoring positions.
Another option at the number 10 position could be the veteran Giovani Dos Santos.
Rafael Marquez, playing a record equalling fifth World Cup, is another viable option to partner Guardado and Herrera, freeing them to maraud further up the pitch, while providing an option to recycle the ball at the base of midfield.
A potent attack on paper, Mexico, has only scored three goals in the group stage.
Vela especially was has been wasteful and with options like the towering Raul Jimenez and the feisty veteran Oribe Peralta on the bench, Osorio might change his front three.
With a squad brimming with options and a Brazil team with kinks of their own, Mexico will back their chances to qualify to the quarterfinals if Osorio gets his balance right.
Player to Watch Brazil
Filipe Luis: Marcelo’s back injury means that Atletico Madrid player, Filipe Luis, will start at left back. After a disappointing transfer to Chelsea, a return to Atletico Madrid first by loan and then permanently, has revitalised his career.
A tireless runner, who is ever ready to participate in attacking moves, Luis will be crucial in providing overlaps by utilising the space created by the inward runs of Neymar.
Luis might not be as creative as Marcelo, but his work rate and the importance of the wing backs in the Brazilian system will make him a key player to their plans.
Hector Herrera: Tenacious in the tackle and smooth on the ball, Herrera is the all round midfielder Brazil lack. He linked up beautifully with Carlos Vela in the first half versus Sweden, slipping in through balls, which created goal scoring chances.
His high energy sets the tone for Mexico’s aggressive midfield and will prove crucial to Mexico’s chances of breaking the jinx of the round of 16.
Alisson-Fagner, Thiago Silva, Miranda, Filipe Luis- Paulinho, Casemiro, Coutinho- Willian, Gabriel Jesus, Neymar.
Mexico: 1-4-2-1-2Ochoa- Alvarez, Salcedo, Moreno, Gallardo- Herrera, Guardado- Fabian- Lozano, Hernandez.