Tite delivered another tactical masterclass as Brazil reached another World Cup quarter-final, Mexico’s forwards underwhelmed and Belgium overcame a 2-0 deficit to eliminate Japan.
Here are three winners and three losers on Day 18 at the 2018 World Cup.
Just when it appeared that Japan was going to be the latest side to pull off a stunning upset, Belgium flipped the script.
Down 2-0 by the 69th minute, Jan Vertonghen, Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli all struck to complete an incredible comeback for the Belgians.
Belgian players and staff sprinted onto the pitch at the full-time whistle as if they just won the World Cup. The Japanese fell to the turf in a heap. It perfectly encapsulated the agony and ecstasy of soccer.
Most of these opening knockout matches have delivered some brilliant entertainment and unpredictability. Let’s hope for more of the same in the final two games of the round and the quarter-finals as well.
As mentioned before the World Cup, Tite is Brazil’s X-Factor. So far, that’s been the case.
The tactical plan from Brazil’s master tactician was impeccable. Mexico started the match by pressing the Brazilian defence, and Casemiro, at a frantic pace. After the opening 20 minutes, though, it was evident that the Mexican midfield and forward line was losing stamina.
After preventing Philippe Coutinho from exiting his own half in that 20-minute span, the Mexican midfield became stretched and Coutinho began receiving more passes in the left half-space, where he’s been very influential thus far at the tournament.
The Brazilian defence, meanwhile, truly heeded the “bend but don’t break” mentality. Mexico managed 14 shots with only one on target, and as expected goals showed – an analytic used to determine the quality of an attempt – Tite was content with limiting the Mexican forwards to low-quality chances.
And Mexico were pretty competitive for a while! But Brazil just squeeeeeeeezed them and created the chances to win easily. pic.twitter.com/13EQDdM1q7
— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) July 2, 2018
Casemiro’s efforts were crucial in the carrying out of this strategy. He had six tackles, four ball recoveries and completed 45 of his 50 passes. The back four were great, too, but the defensive midfielder was dominant.
Unfortunately for Tite, Casemiro’s second yellow card of the tournament means he’s suspended for the quarter-finals. Fernandinho is the likely replacement, but can he replicate this performance, at 32 years old, and with little playing time over the past few weeks?
That is the burning question for Brazil.
At halftime, there were endless tweets pleading for Willian to be substituted.
Luckily for Brazilian fans, Tite remained patient and stuck with the Chelsea winger. Willian repaid the faith with an incredible assist from the left wing for the opening goal. The change of pace to evade Hugo Ayala was astoundingly brilliant.
After being stuck on the right for most of the tournament, Willian ended up switching wings throughout the second half. The unpredictability not only benefitted him, but the entire Brazilian attack.
Mexico’s defence was so narrow before the opening goal because the defenders were concerned about Gabriel Jesus and Neymar. Willian had tons of space on the left side of the box, and he exploited it well.
Sitting deep can have its advantages. It can also leave a team susceptible.
Japan experienced the latter. By sitting deep in their own box, that invited Belgium’s centre-backs into the attacking third. That sustained pressure on the Japanese defence is overwhelming.
It was a theme throughout the entire game, although Japan barely completed any defensive actions outside of their own defensive third after taking a 2-0 lead.
With Belgium pushing men forward, it would’ve behoved Nishino to add another ball-winning midfielder like Hotaru Yamaguchi earlier, instead of the 81st minute. Having fresh legs could’ve led to more recoveries in the middle third and it would’ve alleviated some of the pressure on the defence.
That late dummy from Romelu Lukaku prior to Chadli’s winner was exceptional.
But with that being said, this was a disappointing showing for Lukaku, especially after beginning the World Cup with four goals off five shots in Belgium’s first two matches.
Lukaku finished with six shots, with one hitting the target. He also lost three of his four aerial duels, and the lone header he won in the box was sent wide. Three other attempts were blocked.
With Brazil up next, Belgium’s talismanic forward has to deliver in front of goal.
If there was ever a chance for Mexico to snatch a goal against Brazil, it was in those opening 20 minutes.
Lozano, Vela and Javier Hernandez were constant pests for the Brazilian defenders. But whether it was rushing a shot, holding onto the ball too long or poor touches, the Mexican attacking trio were very disappointing with their end product.
The three forwards were profiting out wide, yet they struggled to penetrate the centre of the box.
Brazil centre-backs Thiago Silva and Joao Miranda were positionally sound throughout, but even when Hernandez was making runs into the middle, Vela and Lozano either didn’t spot the movement or were too selfish.
Eventually, Brazil’s individual quality shined through and Mexico faced an uphill battle.