Brazil 2-0 Mexico: Brazil start strongly but fade
The opening suggested Brazil would win comfortably – but they spent the majority of the second half clinging onto a one-goal lead.
Luiz Felipe Scolari kept the same XI that defeated Japan in the opening game.
On the right flank, Jose Manuel de la Torre stuck with the duo that ended the defeat to Italy – Gerardo Flores on the wing and Hiram Mier at full-back, with winger Javier Aquino on the bench. Carlos Salcido switched from left-back to the centre of midfield, with Jorge Nilo coming into the side.
Brazil started ferociously and pinned Mexico back into their own half, but their overall performance was disappointing.
Brazil left v Mexico right
The most interesting feature of this match was the battle down Brazil’s left, Mexico’s right. De La Torre had made a defensive-minded switch against Italy because Mexico were constantly opened up down that side, and starting with two defensively secure players was an understandable move against Neymar and Marcelo, who were both excellent in Brazil’s opening game.
Unfortunately, the shift in approach wasn’t particularly successful. Mier was at right-back and usually dealing with Neymar, but the problem was actually further up the pitch. Flores stayed in very deep and narrow positions, almost as a third central midfielder at times, with Giovani dos Santos sometimes drifting to the right flank. With no specific player picking up Marcelo, the Real Madrid left-back had plenty of space and was always the out-ball.
The statistics told the story – Marcelo played 43 passes, more than any other Brazilian player, while 45% of Brazil’s play went down that flank, compared to 29% down the left and 25% through the middle (see the graphic below, from WhoScored.com, with Brazil on the left). The situation was comparable to Jordi Alba’s freedom against Uruguay earlier in the competition, and Brazil looked particularly threatening down that side.
It was a slight surprise that Brazil’s opener resulted in a cross from the other full-back, Dani Alves, although he was Brazil’s second-most involved player. His cross for Neymar was the third time a driven cross from full-back has resulted in a Brazilian goal, and with the two holding midfielders playing cautious roles and the wide players given license to come inside, it’s clear good attacking full-back play is a crucial part of Brazil’s strategy.
Like in their opening match, Brazil’s early goal was followed by a significant drop in the tempo of the game. Again, it’s difficult to know whether this was in response to the situation of the match, or whether Brazil intended to play at this speed after a quick opening.
Either way, it didn’t suit the hosts. Having repeatedly got into promising situations in the opening ten minutes, now the ball spent longer in midfield, and increasingly long periods of time with Mexican players. Mexico actually ended the match with 55% of possession, which was highly surprising given Brazil’s early dominance.
By concentrating their attacking down the flanks, Brazil are also most vulnerable in wide areas.
There are three problems here. First, neither Alves nor Marcelo are particularly good players defensively. Alves presses excellent and often makes up for positional lapses with a burst of pace, but in 0ne-against-one situations he often dives in unnecessarily. Marcelo was guilty of overplaying in his own penalty box to give Mexico their first significant chance of the game, and their momentum appeared to build from that moment.
Second, the emphasis on pushing the full-backs high up the pitch means opponents can exploit spaces on the counter-attack. Dos Santos often drifted dangerously in behind Marcelo, while Japan were also at their best in the opening game on mini-breaks when Brazil conceded possession cheaply, often when attempting to transfer the ball wide from the central midfielders.
Third, Neymar and Hulk aren’t entirely committed defensively, and neither contribute a great deal when actually attempting to get back and cover. Neymar was reasonably disciplined in the first half but did little in the second, meaning Marcelo was repeatedly exposed.
Mexico dominate second period
Mexico came into the game primarily because of Brazil’s lack of energy and poor ball retention skills – De La Torre’s side were allowed to hold the ball in central midfield without any significant pressure, and then spread the play wide before crossing.
However, two substitutions also gave Mexico extra attacking potential. Flores and Nilo were sacrificed, with Salcido moving to left-back from where he drove forward well, Hector Herrera on to play some good forward passes from the centre of midfield, and Pablo Barrera introduced as an outside-right, continually giving Marcelo problems.
Yet still Dos Santos was probably the most promising Mexican player, drifting into pockets of space and playing some excellent penetrative balls.
Brazil were extremely disappointing in the second half. They had opportunities to counter-attack but their forwards often took the wrong option – only Oscar continually looked to play in teammates, rather than go for goal himself. Hernanes replaced him and played the same role, Lucas Moura came on for Hulk, while Jo scored for the second match running as a sub after good work from Neymar.
After a bright start this was a disappointing game – Brazil were content to play very slow football and let Mexico back into the game, but Mexico were never fully convincing in the final third.
We learnt little new about Brazil – this just emphasised the impressions we got from the opening game. They’ll attack heavily through their full-backs but are vulnerable in wide areas on the break, while upfront Neymar’s individualism is crucial but Oscar’s selflessness knits the team together.
After a promising couple of years ending in the Olympic success (with a largely U23 squad), Mexico appear to have regressed over the past year. The side is too boxy whereas it previous excelled with its fluidity, and there’s a lack of cutting edge in the final third, despite Dos Santos constantly looking lively, and Hernandez being arguably their most established footballer, even at such a young age. It would be a surprise if De La Torre is in charge of Mexico when they return to Brazil next summer – and that’s assuming they seal qualification.
Brazil 2-0 Mexico: Brazil start strongly but fade