SAMARA, Russia — The Mexico fans who begin the remorseless slog home after a seventh straight World Cup round-of-16 loss do have this to counterbalance their forlornness: They can know both that they electrified this World Cup with their presence and that their 2-0 loss to Brazil on Monday spared them any long swim in the seas of what-if.
Unlike with their other round-of-16 losses — to Bulgaria in 1994, Germany in 1998, the United States in 2002, Argentina in 2006 and 2010, and the Netherlands in 2014 — this one owed to something elemental and clear.
With both goals and so many other occasions across the 96 minutes, it owed to the extra quality that characterizes Brazil, that sees Brazil’s starting 11 sparkle with eight players who appeared in the European Champions League knockout round this year, plus another whose club won the Europa League.
It fit right in that Mexico Manager Juan Carlos Osorio, after decrying the referee’s susceptibility to Brazilian “acting” and “faking,” and after lauding his players for their 53 percent possession and their oft-aggressive mien, said also this: “I think that Mexico football needs to have more players playing abroad [in Europe] so that they can train and play with the best in the world, and then the national team can improve.”
As it stood, he started four players who play in Mexico, one from Major League Soccer and six from the kinds of European clubs that don’t tend to dwell in celestial transfer fees.
The match looked just like that.
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Brazil, after all, had Neymar, whose transfer from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain last summer cost a half-billion dollars, according to some estimates. On Monday night in front of 41,970 and amid noise that cascaded in great blares and echoes, Neymar looked to have shed the last rustiness of his 3 1/2-month injury layoff. His speed and creativity wreaked both Brazilian goals, one in the 51st minute and one in the 88th. He and his mates subjected the commendable Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who plays for Standard Liege in Belgium, to an early evening of unwanted exertion.
Ochoa often succeeded with good sprawls and lunges but, as Neymar said: “No, he’s a great goalkeeper. Everybody knows of Ochoa’s qualities. You know, congratulations on a great match tonight. But I will not give up. I don’t give up. I’m resilient. And it was a goal of perception, of will, of being connected to the game.”
On the first goal, he made a steady and thoughtful move across the top of the box rightward before back-heeling to the excellent Willian, who went against the momentum of the defense on the left down low enough to ship one skipping in front of an overtaxed Ochoa, where it found two Brazilians who had surged to the goalmouth. The second of those was Neymar, who plucked it in.
In the 88th minute, Neymar made a stirring run down the left, shipping a similar ball across Ochoa’s front to Roberto Firmino, the Liverpool player who just graced a Champions League final, who had just entered this game and who plucked it in similarly.
“We don’t have that extra quality that they have coming toward the goal,” Osorio said.
As Brazil mines the knockout bracket with a seventh straight quarterfinal berth — in a 24-year span including two of its five titles and one runner-up finish — it plays as the only widely acknowledged Godzilla left, given the quarterfinal absences of Italy, Germany, Argentina and Spain.
It does so having conceded only one goal in four matches, and that one only when Switzerland cheated. It does so with its manager, Tite, “the professor” as they call him, relishing its balance and asking which reporter said Brazil is playing like a “club team” because, he said, “I thought it was an interesting comment and I was proud of it,” because it signaled unity.
Yet it also romps forward with what appears to be a restored Neymar. “I’m going to tell you something,” Tite said. “Neymar was three months and a half without playing a match. At the top level, this is a lot.”
Tite knew “a top-notch athlete would need four or five matches to recover.”
At times it seemed as well that he may need further refurbishing of his acting skills, as if the Brazilian program might need to bring in Meryl Streep. As these two sides gathered 7,107 miles from Mexico City’s famed Estadio Azteca, and 7,623 from Rio de Janeiro’s famed Maracana, Neymar did topple a lot, sometimes refusing his opponents’ help getting up because of damaged feelings. Yet there was difference of opinion about a moment around 71 minutes when Neymar went down off the sideline, writhing with some vivid theatrics that might have lacked sufficient nuance during a delay of four minutes that Osorio found suboptimal.
Some observers said Mexico’s Miguel Layun stepped on him and warranted a red card. Others, such as the observer managing Mexico, thought otherwise in general.
Osorio saw “too much stoppage” and “a real shame for football” and “a very negative example for the world of football and all the children following the game.” He said the sport “should be a strong sport. It’s a man’s sport. And I think there shouldn’t be so much acting.” He blamed the referee for whittling away his team’s intensity with “too many calls and allows for too many faking fouls.”
When a Brazilian reporter said the video of Layun showed foul play, Osorio answered, “I respect your opinion.”
Tite disagreed but understood Osorio’s frustration while praising Osorio’s “beautiful work” with Mexico. Neymar, accustomed to his whirlwind life at 26, fielded a question about being generally described with nouns such as “diva” and said: “Look, I think it’s more an attempt to undermine me than anything else. I don’t much care for criticism, not even for praise, because this can influence the athlete’s attitude.”
All of that went up for argument, but Brazil’s advantages did not, so that Mexico’s fans could depart yet again at this dreaded juncture with, among other things, their Colombian manager’s assessment that “the support and the love they have for the national team is incredible.”
That part, actually, was not up for argument.
In a second half dominated by Neymar, Brazil put the game out of reach. Neymar sprinted down the field toward the goal, getting off a shot that a closing Roberto Firmino put into the net in the 89th minute.
Neymar feels a foot
Controversy arises when Neymar goes to the ground in a tussle with Miguel Layun and starts rolling in agony and gripping his right ankle.
Replays showed Layun stepped on his ankle. After a few minutes of treatment and agonized emoting, Neymar remains in the game. Of course he does. No yellow card.
Moments later, Carlos Salcedo is given a yellow for getting physical with Neymar, whose acting game, like his soccer game, is on point.
Neymar breaks through, giving Brazil a 1-0 lead by taking a pass from Willian and putting it past Guillermo Ochoa in the opening minutes of the second half.
Willian drove through the penalty area as Neymar curled toward the goal, kicking home Willian’s pass across the face of the goal. He was second in line waiting to take the Willian pass, but his quickness gave him the advantage and he scores from about three yards out. The goal made Brazil the World Cup’s all-time leader in goals, breaking a tie with Germany, according to ESPN.
Gisele is giddy
Supermodel Gisele Bündchen is pretty excited about her country’s performance in the World Cup.
Javier Hernandez comes off in the 60th minute, with Raul Jimenez replacing him. Hernandez has been limping and grabbing the back of his leg.
Philippe Coutinho gets a nice look at the goal three minutes into the second half, but Ochoa is again in the right place at the right time.
Brazil has dominated with 11 shots (three on goal) in the first half, but Mexico is holding on, and the teams take a 0-0 score into halftime. Neymar has had the best chances so far for Brazil, which has come on strong after Mexico’s initial burst.
Still, Mexico is playing well, and this match is delivering all the excitement and emotion that was expected. Although Javier Hernandez was grabbing the back of his right leg in the first half, he is back on the pitch.
Felipe Luis gets a yellow card for bringing down Carlos Vela in the 42nd minute, but Vela’s kick produces nothing.
In the 38th minute, Edson Alvarez takes down Neymar and earns a yellow card for his efforts. Although Neymar rolled multiple times after the collision, this time he wasn’t overacting. (Really.) His free kick, though, sails over the bar, and Mexico holds fast.
Neymar gets a great chance, controlling the ball as he moves toward the goal, but Guillermo Ochoa gets a hand on it in the 25th minute. Brazil is starting to find gaps.
Mexico continues to take the fight to Brazil, but in the 18th minute Javier Hernandez is grabbing his hamstring a bit. That’s a situation worth keeping an eye on. Brazil has a slight edge in possession at the 22-minute mark, 51 to 49 percent.
Mexico has the early flurry, but Brazil charges down the field and, in the fourth minute, Neymar gets his first chance with a shot on goal from the middle of the field. Guillermo Ochoa fields it cleanly. Mexico continues to press, but with no results. As expected, Mexico comes out fast and strong, taking the game to Brazil early.
Samara Arena is rocking, with a crowd that seems to side more with Mexico. Perhaps the fans are just rooting for another upset in a tournament that has been filled with them. It’s a warm day, but the humidity is low and it’s bearable.
- Previous results: 1-1 tie with Switzerland; 2-0 victories over Costa Rica and Serbia.
- Best World Cup finish: Champions in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002.
- Notable: Brazil last failed to reach the quarterfinals 28 years ago.
- FIFA world ranking: 2. ELO world ranking: 1.
- Previous results: 1-0 victory over Germany; 2-1 victory over South Korea; 3-0 loss to Sweden.
- Best World Cup finish: Fourth place, 1966.
- Notable: No country has played more World Cup games (56) without winning the trophy.
- FIFA world ranking: 15. ELO world ranking: 19.
— Cindy Boren
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