Champions League Match Day 2 preview — Barcelona (1-0-0, +4, 4-0) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (0-0-1, -1, 1-2)

Last year, Tottenham Hotspur announced their intentions to be a player at the continental level with their stellar play against Spanish power Real Madrid in Champions League group play.

This time around, the injury-ravaged north London side will need another such performance just to make sure they don’t dig too deep a hole for themselves to get out of Group B on Tuesday when they face leaders Barcelona at Wembley Stadium.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Tottenham endured their first downswing of the season, recovering from three losses on the bounce in all competitions with a pair of league wins around advancing in the Carabao Cup on penalties over Watford. Harry Kane appears ready to kick on for the season after his stellar World Cup for England, recording a first-half brace in Spurs’ 2-0 victory at Huddersfield Town on Saturday.

Kane, though, will be receiving service from a midfield significantly thinned through injury. Playmakers Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen are sidelined, along with defender Jan Vertonghen. Barcelona’s potent trident of ex-Liverpool strikers Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez along with Lionel Messi means Erik Lamela’s creativity might be anchored to the bench as Harry Winks and Eric Dier soak up pressure until he becomes vital to potentially rescue a point.

“Tomorrow we do not win or lose because players are out,” Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino told The Times. “We win or lose and take responsibility. If we don’t win, it is because we do not deserve to and it will be my responsibility. I don’t want easy excuses. Of course I prefer everyone to be available but I am not going to say we don’t have a chance because this or that guy is out.”

Still, it was Winks who was a revelation for Tottenham last season with a spectacular effort in their 1-1 draw at Real Madrid that doubled as the London side’s coming out party to the continent en route to their eventual round of 16 finish. His distribution forward could be the swing vote in this game that determines just how much work the Spurs have left in their final four group matches.

One guy expected to be back in is No. 1 keeper Hugo Lloris, who missed six games due to a thigh injury on the heels of his drink-driving arrest in August, including Tottenham’s 2-1 defeat at Inter Milan to open group play a fortnight ago in which No. 2 Michel Vorm conceded twice after the 85th minute. He was then injured, forcing Pochettino to turn to Paulo Gazzaniga for the last three contests.

Lloris has not played since posting a clean sheet in the Lilywhites’ most complete performance of the season, a 3-0 victory at Manchester United on Aug. 27.

Barcelona are atop Group B after a comprehensive 4-0 thrashing of Dutch side PSV Eindhoven two weeks ago as Messi recorded his 48th career hat trick and raised his Champions League goal haul to 103 in 126 matches. The Argentina international opened the scoring in the 32nd minute before adding his other two in the final 13 minutes following a marker by Ousmane Dembele to start the final quarter-hour.

Messi has not been as proficient outside the Nou Camp in Champions League play, though his 41 goals in 64 away matches cannot be simply binned and ignored. He has also factored on six of Barca’s last eight goals in all competitions over the last four matches, but the defence has not been up to snuff as they have recorded draws at home versus Girona and Athletic Bilbao around a 2-1 defeat at Leganes.

Attacking midfielder Ivan Rakitic, no stranger to an England-laden Spurs side after he tormented a good portion of them in leading Croatia to victory in the World Cup semifinals, said that Barcelona are in good spirits despite the recent run of disappointing results.

“Defending Barça is the greatest thing there is,” he told the club’s official website. “Two games shouldn’t affect us and the important thing is to be all together. We must improve, but we are calm because we are preparing well.”

Manager Ernesto Valverde has been forced into one change for this match, with centre back Samuel Umtiti serving a one-match ban for his two bookings against PSV. That puts Clement Lenglet squarely in Kane’s cross-hairs as he will try to form an airtight tandem with Gerald Pique. That, however, has not happened as Barcelona have yet to record a clean sheet in the two matches they have started together.

One of the interesting sidebars to this contest is Valverde was the manager who ended Pochettino’s playing career while at Espanyol. The Spurs boss said there are no hatchets to bury since they spoke to each other during their tour of the United States in the summer, though Pochettino did admit in his book Valverde’s decision was “hard to accept.”

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Barcelona are firm road favourites with 19/20 odds, while Spurs are 5/2 underdogs. The odds of the teams splitting the points are slightly longer than a home side victory at 13/5.

Oddsmakers are expecting there to be goals at Wembley, with Barca getting 7/4 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals scored, while Spurs are getting 4/1 odds on the high side of goals scored. The odds of a 0-0 draw or 1-1 draw are 17/4, slightly shorter than a 1-0 or 2-0 Barcelona win (19/4). There is not much confidence in a low-scoring Spurs victory, which shares the longest odds with a 2-2 draw or higher at 8/1.

Messi leads the list for first goal-scorers at 16/5, edging out Kane and Suarez — who are joint-second at 4/1. Munir El Hadaddi, who has played all of 72 minutes this season for Barcelona, is a curious fourth option at 5/1 ahead of Spurs reserve striker Fernando Llorente (13/2) and Dembele (7/1).

Messi has better than even money to score during the match at 19/20, with Kane not far behind him at 6/5. Suarez lurks behind the pair at 13/10, with Coutinho and Spurs counterpart Heung-Min Son further back at 12/5, just ahead of Lucas Moura (13/5).

PREDICTION

While Pochettino is correct in moving on past the lament of who is not available for him in this game, getting Lloris back — as expected — is a huge bonus for Tottenham. A better shot-stopper than Gazzaniga, Lloris will also command the penalty area batter than the third-string keeper, something that was vitally missing late in the Lilywhites’ defeat at the San Siro when Inter came at them in waves.

Missing Vertonghen, though, will be a huge negative and one that may result in Pochettino playing more of a five-man back at times similar to what they did at the Bernabeu last season. The wide backs’ discipline will be especially important on the left, where Ben Davies will be tasked with making sure Rakitic doesn’t make overlapping runs and various other offensive feints in tandem with Messi.

Messi, Suarez and Coutinho have accounted for 70 of Barcelona’s 150 shots on target thus far and 13 of their 22 goals. Suarez, though, has a spotty track record on the road in Champions League play, going 13 matches without a marker since netting at AS Roma in 2015. In his abbreviated run with Liverpool last term before joining Barcelona and having to watch knockout round play, Coutinho totaled five goals and three assists in five group matches before getting an assist versus PSV.

How Tottenham go in the midfield is how this match will likely go. If Dier and Winks can disrupt passes and hold possession, the Spurs can find themselves in a position to potentially steal three points. If they wind up chasing ghosts amid the rapid-fire passing of Rakitic, Arthur, and Sergio Busquets and leaving open patches of pitch for Messi and company, it will be a long night at Wembley.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 2, BARCELONA 3.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 2 PREVIEWS:

Napoli (0-1-0) vs. Liverpool (1-0-0)

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 World Cup Quarterfinal Preview — Brazil vs. Belgium (Match 58)

While Belgium’s golden generation finally has a memorable World Cup victory to its credit, it also presented the Red Devils with an opportunity to record a legacy-defining one Friday when it faces five-time champion Brazil in the quarterfinals at Kazan.

Down two goals with less than a half-hour to play and seemingly out of answers against a Japan side which was equal parts opportunistic and ruthless, Belgium manager Roberto Martinez introduced Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli into the match hoping to ignite his listless club.

After an unlikely headed goal by Jan Vertonghen started the fight back, both Fellaini and Chadli put their stamps on the match over the final 20 minutes, with Fellaini heading home the equalizer on 74 minutes before Chadli calmly slotted home a cross from Thomas Meunier with the final kick of the game in the fourth minute of stoppage time as Belgium recorded a famous 3-2 victory and avoided a shock loss that would have added another chapter to the recent shortcomings of this side.

Chadli’s goal may have been the most breathtaking of the World Cup thus far given the time and circumstances of the match. It capped an end-to-end rush that started when Japan made the fateful position to put a corner kick on frame that goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois caught and quickly rolled out to Kevin De Bruyne. The Manchester City star hared through midfield and passed ahead to Meunier, whose cross was expertly dummied by Romelu Lukaku before Chadli ran onto it and scored his sixth international goal.

“You have to find solutions, you have to find reaction but what you have to find more than anything is the desire and togetherness of a group of players, that they are desperate to perform,” Martinez told The Associated Press after Belgium became the first team to rally from two goals down and win a World Cup match since West Germany did so in 1970 against England.

“I think it’s a game that when you are a little boy, you dream of being involved in a World Cup, facing Brazil in a quarterfinal,” he added, “so from our point of view we can enjoy from the first second.”

While this is Belgium’s second consecutive World Cup quarterfinal appearance, it has not reached the semifinals since a fourth-place finish in 1986 that remains its best showing. The Red Devils, though, have never beaten a South American squad in the knockout round, losing twice to Argentina and once to Brazil while failing to score in all three matches.

Brazil has endured similar shortcomings against European sides of late, with its last knockout victory over a continental side coming in 2002 when it defeated Germany to lift the Jules Rimet trophy for a fifth side. There have since been elimination losses to France and the Netherlands in the quarterfinals before the Selecao’s humbling 7-1 semifinal loss to Die Mannschaft in Belo Horizonte four years ago.

Brazil, though, is making its seventh consecutive appearance in the quarterfinals after dispatching of Mexico 2-0. Neymar opened the scoring with his second goal of the tournament and sixth career World Cup goal and all but had an official assist as his cross that was tipped by Mexico keeper Guillermo Ochoa still led to Roberto Firmino’s late goal that sealed the win.

The theatrics that come with Neymar’s breathtaking offensive skills continued in the round of 16 match as he exaggerated the impact of a stamp from Mexico’s Miguel Layun on the sidelines. Still, Neymar has drawn a staggering 23 fouls — eight more than Lionel Messi, who is second with 15 — and his teammates came to his defense.

“This is normal because he has many qualities. The players who defend him make fouls,” Thiago Silva told The42. “Because it’s always hard to defend Neymar and take the ball without making fouls.”

Silva and the Selecao’s defense has also delivered in Russia, conceding just one goal in four matches and carry a 310-minute shutout streak since allowing that goal off a set piece early in the second half of the first match against Switzerland. That has been one of the underrated aspects of Tite’s makeover of Brazil, which has conceded just six goals in 25 matches since his arrival.

Brazil, however is facing a Belgium squad that has scored a tournament-best 12 goals and will do so without defensive midfielder Casemiro, who picked up his second yellow card of the tournament versus El Tri and will serve his one-match ban in this contest.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Brazil
June 17 — Brazil 1, Switzerland 1 (Coutinho 20′, Zuber 50′)
June 22 — Brazil 2, Costa Rica 0 (Coutinho 90+1′, Neymar 90+7′)
June 27 — Brazil 2, Serbia 0 (Paulinho 36′, Thiago Silva 68′)
July 2 — Brazil 2, Mexico 0 (Neymar 51′, Firmino 88′)

Belgium
June 18 — Belgium 3, Panama 0 (Mertens 47′, Lukaku 69′, 75′)
June 23 — Belgium 5, Tunisia 2 (Hazard 6′ (PK), Lukaku 16′, Bronn 18′, Lukaku 45+3′, Hazard 51, Batshuayi 90′, Khazri 90+3′)
June 28 — Belgium 1, England 0 (Januzaj 51′)
July 2 — Belgium 3, Japan 2 (Haraguchi 48′, Inui 52′, Vertonghen 69′, Fellaini 74′, Chadli 90+4′)

FORMATIONS

The two expected changes for Brazil will be at left back, where Marcelo should return after sitting out the Mexico match due to back spasms, and central midfield, where Fernandinho is the most likely replacement for the suspended Casemiro. It is possible Danilo could return at right back, but Fagner also did not do anything to warrant being displaced in starting the last three matches.

After using a three-man back line throughout group play and again against Japan, it would seem prudent for Martinez to go to a four-man back against a team with as much firepower as Brazil. It is a seamless transition for his wide backs as Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld serve in the same capacity at Tottenham, and Dedryck Boyata acquitted himself well enough deputizing for Kompany in group play that the two should be a serviceable tandem in central defense.

The unknown variable is how Martinez will line up his midfielders and attacking wingers underneath Lukaku. It would seem likely Axel Witsel would be dropped for this match given his ineffectiveness against Japan, which opens the door for Mousa Dembele on the left side. While De Bruyne playing in front of the back four is not his best position given his playmaking skills, he is surplus to goods up front with Eden Hazard there and likely will drop into that role.

Meunier was a constant menace against Japan marauding up and down the right flank and will need to do so to prevent Marcelo from doing likewise for Brazil. Dries Mertens will have to shake off a poor performance against Japan, and his creativity could prove vital here.

INJURIES AND INELIGIBLES

Casemiro will serve his one-match suspension, and while Danilo is healthy enough to play, he has not been able to unseat Fagner. Brazil has three players — Neymar, Coutinho and Filipe Luis — one booking away in this match from being suspended for the semifinals.

While Belgium has five players with one yellow card, only three of them — De Bruyne, Meunier and Vertonghen — are in its starting XI. No one has been reported injured for the Red Devils since Kompany successfully overcame the groin injury that sidelined him the first two group matches.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Brazil — Willian (W)

Willian had his best match of the World Cup by miles against Mexico. He assisted on Neymar’s goal and popped up everywhere as his pace gave El Tri’s back four problems throughout the second half. While he has yet to score entering his 10th career World Cup contest, the Chelsea winger must continue to stretch defenses to create the gaps Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho can exploit.

Belgium — Eden Hazard (MF)

With Casemiro’s absence from Brazil’s midfield in front of the back four, Hazard will be able to glean some of Fernandinho’s tendencies from his Manchester City teammate De Bruyne. If Demeble is introduced on the left side, look for Hazard to take on a more centrally located role in the offense in the form of a traditional No. 10 playmaker while trying to pick out Lukaku both through the air and on the ground.

WORLD CUP HISTORY HEAD-TO-HEAD

2002 (Japan/South Korea) R/16 — Brazil 2, Belgium 0 (Rivaldo 67′, Ronaldo 87‘)

The scoreline from their only previous World Cup encounter flatters Brazil because Belgium proved a worthy opponent and had a goal by Marc Wilmots in the 36th minute disallowed. Wilmots was also a handful when the Red Devils controlled the first part of the second half before Rivaldo scored on a shot that took a deflection off Daniel van Buyten.

Ronaldo added the second with three minutes remaining after Belgium had opened up trying to find a late equalizer.

This is just the fifth overall meeting between the teams, with Brazil winning friendlies in 1965 and 1988. Belgium’s lone victory came in the first match between the sides in 1963.

BETTING ANGLE

Per Ladbrokes, Brazil is a solid 11/10 favorite while Belgium is listed as a 5/2 underdog. The odds of the match ending in a draw and going to penalty kicks are 23-10. Given the offensive skills of both sides, picking zero for total goals returns 9/1 odds, while a total of two goals is the current odds-on favorite at 13/5.

Unsurprisingly, Neymar is the favorite for first goal-scorer at 7/2, while Lukaku returns 9/2 odds if he can bag his fifth goal of the World Cup to give Belgium a 1-0 lead. Neymar’s strike partners Jesus and Firmino are at 5/1, while Michy Batshuayi is the second-rated option for the Red Devils at 6/1.

PREDICTION

As much as everyone would like to see these sides go full throttle and put up 10 goals in this match in some sort of 6-4 thriller or 5-5 draw that goes to penalties and further ruins goalkeepers’ lives, let’s throw some cold water on that with a reminder there were five goals combined in the four quarterfinals in Brazil four years ago.

Martinez and Belgium have to enter this contest with some sort of pragmatic approach, which is why the switch to the four-man back line seems likely. After all, who wants Marcelo having free reign on the left side along with Neymar and Philippe Coutinho to create a triangle of terror around Alderweireld?

Make no mistake, Belgium will attack at every opportunity presented by Brazil, but it must not get sucked into leaving huge gaps of space behind when it does that like it did against Japan. Some of that was because of playing three at the back, but some of it was also because Samurai Blue used their pace to great success.

Lukaku versus Silva will be one of the best heavyweight matchups between striker and central defender at this World Cup, and while his dummy that shaped Chadli’s goal showed the big man’s nous, this match is a great opportunity for Lukaku to shed some of the flat-track bully reputation he acquired at Manchester United after failing to score against top-six opponents in the Premier League this past season.

While Neymar will undoubtedly be the recipient of multiple fouls, one gets the sense Belgium will not play as cynically on defense as previous opponents. That is partly because Belgium is not a world-class defensive side, but also in part because Belgium play with flow and have yet to muck things up while in Russia.

There are plenty of high-profile matchups throughout the pitch for this contest, and while there is no clear-cut reason to pick against Brazil and for Belgium, sometimes a team comes along at the right time to embrace its moment of destiny. And the hunch here is the Red Devils do just that.

PREDICTION: Belgium 3, Brazil 2

UP NEXT:

The winner of this match will play the winner of the France-Uruguay match in the semifinals in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.

 

2018 World Cup Preview Round of 16 — Brazil vs. Mexico (Match 53)

“Quintido partido” is a place Mexico has been trying to reach for 32 years. For Brazil, anything less is a failure to reach the minimum of expectations that come with being a global power in football.

El Tri seek their elusive breakthrough at the expense of the five-time champions Selecao on Monday in Samara in their round of 16 match at the World Cup.

Since being ineligible for the 1990 World Cup due to the “Cachirules” scandal, Mexico has advanced out of group play in all seven World Cups since. But its quest to lift the Jules Rimet trophy has stopped immediately after that in all previous six tournaments, leaving a lengthy trail of frustration well into its second generation of supporters.

The list of teams who have knocked El Tri out of the World Cup before the quarterfinals is varied in terms of both location and quality, and only Argentina has done it twice. In 1994, it was upstart and eventual semifinalist Bulgaria on penalty kicks. Four years later in France, four-time champion Germany.

Their archrival, the United States, turned the trick in 2002, rope-a-doping them on the counter in a 2-0 victory that paved the way for the rise of “soccer” north of Mexico’s border. In 2006, Maxi Rodriguez’s wonder strike in extra time for Argentina added to the misery.

The rematch in 2010 was more straightforward as La Albiceleste only needed 90 minutes. Four years ago, Mexico collapsed late against the Netherlands, allowing the tying goal in the 88th minute and conceding a penalty in stoppage time.

The hopes of a nation soared early in Russia as El Tri started brightly with a 1-0 shock victory over reigning champion Germany, followed by a workmanlike 2-1 victory over South Korea. But those dreams of grandeur a nightmarish turn for nearly 20 minutes Wednesday when supporters watched their team get manhandled by Sweden 3-0 in their final group match and then had to endure Die Mannschaft laying siege to the South Korean goal.

The scenario in which Mexico could have been the first team in World Cup history eliminated from group play on six points was in play as Germany needed just one goal to advance. But the Taegeuk Warriors saved them from such a hellish fate, scoring twice late to earn the gratitude of football-mad Mexico and allowing them yet another opportunity to reach “quinto partido” for the first time since getting there as host in 1986.

Brazil, meanwhile, has been to the quarterfinals or further in every World Cup in that span, winning it in both 1994 and 2002 to add those fourth and fifth stars stitched onto the trademark yellow jersey.

The last time the Selecao failed to reach the round of eight came in Italy in 1990 at the hands of archrivals Diego Maradona and Argentina in a match more remembered after the fact for Maradona confessing he offered Branco water spiked with tranquilizers at halftime in an attempt to slow him.

While there are still scars of the 7-1 semifinal beatdown Germany administered in Brazil four years ago, there are signs the Selecao have moved on from that scandalous loss and are viable contenders to win a sixth title.

Neymar’s cathartic tears after scoring in the middle match late against Costa Rica was followed by Brazil’s pragmatic 2-0 victory against Serbia in which a flash of his jogo bonito came with the way he did a rabona to stop a long pass at his feet. The Selecao allowed only one goal in the three matches, one they would argue should have been disallowed had VAR been used properly, but there is a balance this team has under Tite more obvious than in Brazils of the past.

Whether that means this Selecao are as great as those other teams, of course, starts with this match to reach the “quintido partido.”

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Brazil
June 17 — Brazil 1, Switzerland 1 (Coutinho 20′, Zuber 50′)
June 22 — Brazil 2, Costa Rica 0 (Coutinho 90+1′, Neymar 90+7′)
June 27 — Brazil 2, Serbia 0 (Paulinho 36′, Thiago Silva 68′)

Mexico
June 17 — Mexico 1, Germany 0 (Lozano 35′)
June 23 – Mexico 2, South Korea 1 (Vela 26′ (PK), Hernandez 66′, Son 90+3′)
June 27 — Mexico 0, Sweden 3 (Augustinsson 50′, Granqvist 62′ (PK), Alvarez 74′ (og))

FORMATIONS

The changes for Brazil are going to take place on both flanks on the back line. With Marcelo likely restricted to a reserve role due to the back spasms that forced him off after 10 minutes against Serbia, Filipe Luis could be in line for a start at left back. On the right side, Danilo has been cleared to play after missing two matches and will be restored to the starting XI, displacing Fagner.

For Mexico, coach Juan Carlos Osorio has been forced into one change as defender Hector Moreno will serve a one-match ban for his two yellow cards accrued in group play. The most likely personnel shuffle sees Carlos Salcedo taking that spot at left center back and Hugo Ayala returning to the lineup after his lone start against Germany.

INJURED AND INLEIGIBLES

Brazil is still without first-choice right forward Douglas Costa, who has played just one half of football in Russia and is dealing with a thigh injury. The three most important Selecao players — Neymar, Coutinho and Casemiro — are all on a yellow and would miss the quarterfinals with a second booking.

Aside from Moreno’s enforced absence, everyone on El Tri appear to be healthy and available for selection by Osorio. Like Brazil, Mexico has three players on a booking as Miguel Layun, Hector Herrera and Jesus Gallardo all carry a yellow card.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Brazil – Thiago Silva (D)

His defensive work sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of Brazil’s offensive greatness, but the PSG man also gets it done at the other end of the pitch. His goal against Switzerland was his sixth in 74 international appearances, but given how Mexico likes to counterattack, he is going to have to win tackles in the run of play for the Selecao to be successful in this contest.

Mexico – Carlos Vela (F)

Vela’s goal in Russia came from the penalty spot, but his all-out industry for the hour or 65 minutes he gives Osorio is what makes Mexico so effective on the counter. He has the pace to drop back to start the counter or be the outlet in the middle of the pitch to carry the ball for either Chicharito Hernandez or Hirving Lozano into the final third. If Vela can find gaps behind Paulinho and Coutinho and take on Casemiro 1-on-1, Mexico could find success.

WORLD CUP HISTORY HEAD-TO-HEAD

1950 (Brazil) Brazil 4, Mexico 0 (Ademir 30′, Jair 65′, Baltazar 71′, Ademir 79′)
1954 (Switzerland) Brazil 5, Mexico 0 (Baltazar 23′, Didi ’30, Pinga 34′, Pinga 43′, Julinho 69′)
1962 (Chile) Brazil 2, Mexico 0 (Zagallo 56′, Pele 73′)
2014 (Brazil) Brazil 0, Mexico 0

As the scorelines show, Mexico has yet to score against Brazil while shipping 11 goals in the World Cup, though all four of those matches came in group play. The teams have met once since their last World Cup meeting, with Coutinho contributing a goal to a 2-0 victory in a friendly in 2015.

Mexico has 10 wins in 40 all-time meetings at the senior level, most recently a 2-0 victory in a friendly in 2012. El Tri’s last victory in a tournament setting over Brazil came in group play at the 2007 Copa America.

BETTING ANGLE

Per Ladbrokes, Brazil is a heavy favorite at 1/2 odds, while Mexico is a 6/1 underdog. The odds of the match ending in a draw and going to penalty kicks is 29/10. For first goal-scorers, Neymar is the top pick at 11/4, followed by Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino at 4/1 and Coutinho at 5/1. Hernandez is the top option among Mexico players with 8/1 odds.

PREDICTION

Every four years, a referendum on Mexican football takes place with this round of 16 match. While Osorio deserves all the credit for letting his players dream big and getting his tactics right against Germany and South Korea, it was clear the pressure of the moment got to his side against Sweden.

And there is still some uneasiness about El Tri. After all, Osorio was in charge of the 7-0 debacle against Chile in the, say it with me, quarterfinals of the 2016 Copa America Centenario that ended a 22-match unbeaten streak and nearly cost the Colombian his job.

For all the pragmatism Brazil has shown under Tite, it will not going to sit back against Mexico, which will play to El Tri’s counterattacking strength. The Selecao are too proud to simply sit on possesson, and Willian may emerge as a pivotal figure on the right to pick apart a Mexico backline without Moreno.

In the scoreless draw against Brazil four years ago, Ochoa turned in an inspired effort with a world-class quality save on Neymar and a late stop at point-blank range by Thiago Silva to secure the point. He finished with eight saves in that contest, and despite the 8-3 edge in shots on goal for Brazil, El Tri finished with one fewer shot (14-13).

Mexico is one of the few teams in the world not awed by Brazil and often relishes the challenge of facing the Selecao. However, it is also a matchup that does not curry them any favors. The wait for “quintido partido” will continue for Mexico while Brazil moves on to the quarterfinals once more.

PREDICTION: Brazil 3, Mexico 1.

UP NEXT

The winner of this match will play the winner of the Belgium-Japan match in the quarterfinals July 6 in Kazan.

World Cup Recap Match 43 — Brazil 2, Serbia 0 (June 27)

Paulinho and Thiago Silva scored on either side of halftime as Brazil cemented its spot atop Group E of the World Cup with a clinical 2-0 victory over Serbia on Wednesday in Moscow.

The five-time champion finished with seven points, two better than Switzerland, but were sent to what appears to be the loaded half of the bracket as the Selecao will face Mexico in the round of 16 on Monday in Samara and could face France, Argentina or Uruguay should it get to the semifinals. It will be the second straight World Cup the teams will meet after playing to a scoreless draw in group play four years ago in Brazil.

Serbia, which needed a victory to advance out of the group, finished third on three points. The Orlovi were denied their first trip to the knockout round since 1998 when the country was known as Yugsolavia, and they have failed to advance out of the group stage as Serbia in two attempts.

While Brazilian fans had gotten an unexpected delight in watching Germany crash out of group play earlier Wednesday, feeling it was karmic retribution for the embarrassing 7-1 thrashing Die Mannschaft hung on them four years ago in the semifinals, there was little such worry the Selecao would join them on the sidelines.

But there was a moment of concern just 10 minutes in when Marcelo was forced off the pitch with what appeared to be a lower-body injury but turned out to be back spasms. Filipe Luis replaced the left back, but there is concern for Tite as Brazil started third-choice right back Fagner on the other side of the pitch due to injuries to Danilo and Dani Alves.

It was a cagey start without much in the way of scoring chances, with Serbia talisman Aleksandar Kolarov doing well to shut down Neymar after being put through by Philippe Coutinho in the 19th minute. Neymar would get a shot on target five minutes later, but Serbia keeper Vladimir Stojkovic did well to paw away his looping attempt from six yards as he tried to place it inside the right post.

Aleksandar Mitrovic, who gave Switzerland fits with his impressive physical hold-up play, found it tougher to find space against Brazil’s pairing of Miranda and Thiago, but did have a half-chance in the 33rd as he hooked a volley from 10 yards over the bar.

Brazil found its first goal almost straightaway after that. Barely over the midfield stripe, Coutinho raked a pass over the top of Serbia’s defense that Paulinho was able to catch up with after it bounced inside the penalty area and caressed it over Stojkovic from 15 yards with a touch of his extended right foot, letting it bounce neatly into the net.

Recognizing the urgency of needing to win, Serbia pushed forward, with Mitrovic heading right at Alisson in the 40th minute on a corner by Adem Ljajic. Neymar had one final quality chance right before halftime, curling a right-footed shot from 25 yards just over the upper right corner.

Serbia should have done better in a transition sequence in the 54th minute, but Ljajic’s pass to Dusan Tadic was behind the winger on the right, allowing Brazil to get numbers back and clear out the danger. Stojkovic again denied Neymar in the 57th minute after the Selecao raced forward on a counter following a corner, and a few minutes later, the Orlovi had their best chance to equalize.

Tadic held the ball up in the right channel and laid it off to Antonio Rukavina, who fizzed a right-footed cross into the penalty area. Alisson parried it right into the path of Mitrovic, who failed to pick out a corner with his header as it went righ at Thiago, who was able to calmly play it to his keeper.

Mitrovic got another chance in the 65th minute courtesy of Rukavina, but his downward header was not far enough from Alisson to cause the AS Roma No. 1 any issue. Brazil then piled on the pressure, earning a pair of corner kicks, and Thiago buried the second delivery from Neymar inside the left post with a bullet header from inside the six-yard box on that side in the 68th minute.

Brazil then did well to squeeze the life out of the game, owning possession while always threatening to find a third. Neymar came closest on two occasions, bouncing one effort with a volley over the bar in the 83rd minute and forcing a save from Stojkovic in the 86th.

The Selecao ran their unbeaten streak in World Cup group play to 15 matches (12-3-0) dating to their 2-1 loss to Norway in the final match of Group A in 1998 that had no bearing on them since they had clinched group honors.