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Neymar Can Lead Brazil into World Cup Quarter Finals

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July 2, 2018
Neymar can be the man for the big stage against Mexico

It’s South America versus Central America in Samara as the World Cup starts to get really interesting. And, oddly, Mexico will go into this game with almost as much belief at the Brazilians.

The Mexicans were scintillating for their two and a half matches – and had manoeuvred themselves into ‘must be avoided’ territory – but, it has to be said, the wheels did come off a little in the second half of their final group game against Sweden. That said, to put that 3-0 hammering into some sort of context, they had already qualified for the knockout phase, unlike the Swedes who were in dire need of the win.

Most notably, Mexico began the tournament with a fine 1-0 victory over Germany – a result that made the world sit up and take notice – and followed it up with a less-spectacular but still solid 2-1 win over South Korea. That their group games concluded with those three Swedish second-half goals was clearly a downer for them but shouldn’t disguise the fact that the hard yards had already been run.

For them to have even a chance of progressing they must consign that defeat to history, draw on all the good things they did in their first two games and face the Brazilians with no fear. To date, the Sweden disappointment aside, their success has been based on a well-rounded, fluent attack and a tight defence, with a penchant for launching lightening quick counter-attacks after soaking up spells of pressure.

Up front, they lean heavily on the experience and nous of Javier Hernandez but they have assembled him an impressive supporting cast that includes the equally experienced Carlos Vela – once of Arsenal –  and speedy winger Hirving Lozano.

Defensively they will learn from the mistakes of the Sweden game and will be keen to replicate the defensive set-up that saw them concede just once in the first 225 minutes of the tournament. They will also be keen to not lose their shape as they did late on against the Swedes. Make no mistake, while the Mexicans will start as underdogs, they are capable of giving their South American opponents a scare.

The Brazilians didn’t qualify with all guns blazing either but still did so in relative comfort. Wins in games two and three, over Costa Rica and Serbia, ensured they topped Group E after a stuttering opening, which saw them draw 1-1 with Switzerland.

They will be hoping to exploit any defensive nervousness in the Mexicans, and who better to do it than Neymar and Philippe Coutinho, although the former will be hoping to find some better form in the second phase of the competition. Neymar will, however, latch onto the ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’ mantra and as he grows in confidence – he’s only relatively recently returned from a fractured foot – so will his threat level to opposing defences. He’ll also be prepared for some rough stuff, given he has already been targeted in the opening three games.

But it’s not just about Neymar and Coutinho. They also have the youthful talent of Gabriel Jesus to call upon, although there is talk of him being replaced by Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino – who is coming off the back of a fine season in which he netted 15 goals in 37 Premier League games and scored 10 in 13 Champions League appearances.

Brazil start as clear favourites, and for Mexico to stand an earthly chance they will need to start the game well but, as stated earlier, let’s not write them off. Player for player, there is only one winner but if the Mexicans can rediscover that ability to counter with power and pace this could be a classic encounter, with extra-time a possibility.

Belgium’s Class to Overcome Japan’s Admirable Effort

Eden Hazard celebrating after scoring for Belgium

In the same way that most expect Brazil to be too much for the Mexicans, the pundits, experts and bookies are unanimous in expecting Belgium to comfortably dispatch Japan.

The Japanese only squeezed into the knockout stages via the first airing of the fair play rule, and it was telling that with their destiny in their own hands they were unable to find a way past the Poles who, up until that point, had been the tournament’s biggest disappointment. In the end, the Samurai Blue were reliant on Colombia holding on to a 1-0 lead over Senegal – whose disciplinary record was worse than the Japanese – and they carefully negotiated the final 20 minutes of their game minus any bookings in the hope the Senegalese couldn’t find a late equaliser. The gods were smiling on them and they moved to the knockout stages for just the third time in their history.

Logic, however, would suggest that with them being unable to find some creativity when faced with modest opposition, the Japanese will find it doubly difficult against the high-flying Belgians.

Belgium’s route to the second phase was, by contrast, much more straightforward. Wins against Panama and Tunisia sent them through with a game to spare, leading to that bizarre game between them and England where, in effect, both teams were content to lose. Ultimately, it boiled down to a game between two reserve sides that was edged by Belgium by the odd goal – a win that sent them through to the “tougher” half of the draw, albeit with, on paper, an easier Round of 16 tie.

And what they now have is a squad that’s coming into the last 16 with three consecutive wins and key players – Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard – who are in form and fresh. For that reason alone, it’s hard to see past a Belgium win. Interestingly, Belgium have won only one of five head-to-head games against the Japanese, their only win coming last year when Lukaku’s late second-half strike was sufficient to win a friendly in Bruges.

Belgium should have more than enough in the tank to overcome the lively Japanese again, who definitely won’t be found lacking in terms of effort and desire. But we expect quality to overcome spirit and effort on this occasion, with Martinez’ men getting the job done with the 90 minutes.

About the author

Alan Penny
Alan Penny


Alan hails from Northern Ireland and is an avid fan of all sports. He has been with us since 2017 and serves as SBO’s Editor-in-Chief. Alan passionately covers everything from the latest regulatory developments across the globe to tips on the latest football matches.