After each matchday of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Sportsnet.ca’s World Cup Daily blog will recap the day’s events, and look ahead to the next day’s slate of games.
Here’s what happened on Monday, in case you missed it…
Brazil 2, Mexico 0 in Samara: Match report || match stats
Belgium 3, Japan 2 in Rostov: Match report || match stats
MAIN TALKING POINTS
A longstanding joke making the rounds in international soccer has been that there are three things you can always count on: Death, taxes and Mexico departing the World Cup right after the group stage.
The Mexicans entered this year’s competition looking to break the curse of the “Quinto Partido,” the fifth game. El Tri came to Russia having exited the World Cup in the second round in each of the previous six tournaments. You can now make it seven in a row, as they bow out after four matches yet again. Only twice have the Mexicans ever won a knockout round at the World Cup, both times not-so-coincidentally when they hosted the tournament in 1970 and 1986.
This time was supposed to be different. Never has the Mexican national team had so many players ply their trade outside of Mexico’s domestic division and in Europe’s top leagues. Their shocking and well-deserved win over Germany had people buzzing: a team that has promised so much but delivered so little was finally going to come through. In the end, it was more of the same from the kings of CONCACAF, ousted at the hands of the Brazilians, after being dumped out of the tournament at the same stage the last six times by Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Argentina (twice), the United States and Germany.
This is Mexico. This is who they are as a World Cup team. A Round-of-16 side. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Most nations would kill to have their record of consistency. They are a side good enough to survive a difficult group and play brilliantly at times (like they did against Germany and South Korea in the opening round). A side good enough to give Brazil fits, and make the South Americans sweat a little.
But a side that’s not actually good enough to hang with the game’s elite, and win when it matters most at the World Cup. What the Mexicans don’t have, and truth be told what they’ve never shown at this tournament, is the ability to raise their game and play above their heads on a consistent basis.
Mexico is exactly the sum of its parts. Nothing more.
Neymar inspires and infuriates
Has there even been a player more admired for his undeniable skill and at the same time despised for his blatant chicanery than Neymar? The PSG star poked home off a lovely setup from Willian to give Brazil a 1-0 lead over Mexico early in the second half, his second goal of this World Cup. He then turned provider late in regulation time, crossing for Robert Firmino who scored to seal victory for Brazil.
Neymar has been hugely influential in Russia, attempting more shots (23), more shots on target (12), and creating more scoring chances (16) than any other player. And he’s done it while suffering a tournament-high 23 fouls.
But he’s also turned people off with his shameless playacting and self-indulgent behaviour in his constant attempts to get opposing players booked. With 20 minutes left in regulation, Neymar writhed in exaggerated pain on the touchline after his right ankle was stepped on by Miguel Layun.
There was barely anything in it, although it should have been called a foul. It wasn’t, and maybe that’s because the referee didn’t appreciate Neymar’s histrionics in trying to sell it as though Layun viciously stamped on his ankle. To see Neymar carry on as if his ankle was about to tear off from his leg was pure comedy.
It’s enough already, Neymar. Stop bringing the game and yourself into disrepute.
An amazing comeback by Belgium
The criticism of Belgium at this tournament has been that it had an easy time of it. Tunisia and World Cup debutantes Panama are modest outfits, and the Red Devils had little trouble brushing them aside in their first two games of the group stage. England’s “B team” didn’t pose much of a threat, either, as the Three Lions rested several key starters ahead of their Round of 16 match against Colombia.
Questions lingered about Belgium. Yes, they boast a “Golden Generation” of players in Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois. But how would this collection of glittering superstars handle adversity once it showed its face in Russia? We have our answer.
The Belgians bossed Japan for the opening 45 minutes in Rostov, stroking the ball around with confidence as they made their opponents chase in vain. Belgium did everything right – except score. They paid for their lack of ruthlessness up front when Japan took a 2-0 advantage early in the second half against the run of play, marking the first time Belgian trailed at this World Cup.
Roberto Martinez’s side dug in, kept its composure, and quickly drew level courtesy of goals from Jan Vertonghen (making amends for a mistake that led to Japan’s opening goal) and Marouane Fellaini (who was brought on as a substitute for Dries Mertens). Japan valiantly stuck around, putting Belgium’s defence under pressure time after time. Extra time loomed.
But then a moment of true inspiration. Courtois collected the ball off a Japanese corner kick. He quickly read the situation, recognized Japan was out of position, and threw the ball out to De Bruyne. The Manchester City star sped up field and played a pass out wide before the ball eventually fell to Nacer Chadli, another second-half substitute, who slotted it home. In a span of less than 10 seconds, Belgium went end-to-end and killed of the game with one of the best-worked goals of the tournament. Pure class under pressure from the Belgians.
In the 51st minute, Brazil putting together a pretty and flowing passing sequence that ended with Willian using a burst of pace to blaze down the left side of the box and play a ball back into the middle for Neymar to poke home.
Honourable mention to Takashi Inui for his blast from outside the box, and Jan Vertonghen for his looping header for Belgium.
In the 48th minute, Brazil took a quick corner and caught Mexico’s defence napping. Philippe Coutinho dribbled his way into a dangerous position before blasting a powerful shot on target. Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa stood tall, expertly punching it out of danger.
Belgium’s injury-time goal was not only dramatic, but also the textbook example of a counter-attack. Kevin De Bruyne made a long run from his own end and then sent it out wide to Thomas Meunier, who then crossed it into the penalty area for Nacer Chadli. From there, Chadli made no mistake as he hammered it past Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima.
THE GAME WITHIN THE GAME
Belgium dictated the pace of the game in the first half as it laid siege upon Japan’s goal. But for all the attacking intent they showed in their build up play, the Red Devils were trigger shy, attempting just two shots on target. They could have gone into the halftime break with a lead against Japan had they been a little more ruthless in front of goal.
“We wasted a lot of time because of one single player. I think this is a real shame for football, especially for kids who are watching because this has to be a sport of virility, of determination, a man’s sport, like other games, and not a charade.” – Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio takes a shot at Neymar without calling him out by name.
SIX PACK OF STATS
• At 39 years and 139 days, Mexico’s Rafael Marquez is the oldest outfield player to start a World Cup knockout match since Stanley Matthews (39 years and 145 days) in 1954 for England versus Uruguay.
• Brazil’s Neymar has created more goal scoring chances (16) for his teammates than any other player at this World Cup.
• Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa made eight saves versus Brazil. The only player to have made more saves during 90 minutes of regulation time at this World Cup is Ochoa himself, making nine saves versus Germany in the group stage.
• Belgium made 10 changes to its starting lineup against Japan, the most in a World Cup match since Spain made 11 changes versus Saudi Arabia in 2006.
• Genki Haraguchi’s goal was Japan’s first ever in a World Cup knockout match.
• The last team to come from two goals down to win a World Cup knockout match was West Germany against England in 1970.
Stats courtesy of Opta
1) Willian, Brazil: Was the driving force behind Brazil’s attack, and made that fabulous run and cross to set up Neymar’s opening goal.
2) Nacer Chadli, Belgium: The super sub. Helped give Belgium’s attack a big boost when he came on in the 65th minute, and then scored with the last kick of the game to complete the comeback victory.
3) Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico: The Mexican goalkeeper made a number of big saves, especially in the second half when Brazil took control. Kept his team in the game.
LOOKING AHEAD TO TUESDAY
Round of 16: Sweden vs. Switzerland in Saint Petersburg (10:00 a.m. ET) – The last time Switzerland reached the quarterfinals was in 1954 when it staged the tournament. Sweden hasn’t won a knockout match at the World Cup since finishing third in in 1994. Swiss captain Stephan Lichtsteiner and fellow defender Fabian Schär are suspended due to yellow card accumulation. Swedish midfielder Sebastian Larsson is also suspended. The winner meets either Colombia or England on July 7 in Samara.
Round of 16: Colombia vs. England in Rostov (2:00 p.m. ET) – Star attacker James Rodriguez is questionable for Colombia after he picked up a calf injury in the South Americans’ last group stage match. If he isn’t fit to play, look for Juventus winger Juan Cuadrado and River Plate midfielder Juan Quintero to try to pick up the slack and lead the Colombian attack. England is well rested, as manager Gareth Southgate gave several of his starters the day off for its group stage final, including top scorer Harry Kane.
ELSEWHERE ON THE WEB
Jack Pitt-Brooke of The Independent writes about Croatia’s big win over Denmark and how the Croatians exorcised their demons from Euro 2008:
For Luka Modric, manager Zlatko Dalic and for all Croatians, it was impossible not to think back to the quarter-final of Euro 2008. Facing Turkey in Vienna, Croatia thought they had won it when Ivan Klasnic scored in the last minute of extra-time. But Semih Senturk equalized with the last kick of the match, dragging the tie to penalties, and Croatia collapsed. They lost the shoot-out 3-1 and had not won a knock-out game since. 10 years on, the players still hurt when they look back. That was what they were all fearing in Nizhny Novogorod on Sunday night. Facing a penalty shootout they never wanted, after Modric had missed from the spot with five minutes of extra-time left. But this time they did it, beating Denmark and reaching the quarter-finals.