Samara (Russia): So can Brazil go all the way in this World Cup? Their win against Mexico in the Samara Arena took them one step closer to the title they haven’t won since 2002, but still left some questions to be answered.
Once again, the Brazilians made it clear that their attacking trio of Willian, Gabriel Jesus and Neymar, with Philipe Coutinho in close attendance can cause damage if they get the ball, but the key word is ‘if’, reports Xinhua news agency.
“We had 21 chances, it was a great game and I really enjoyed it. Our transitions were really quick,” said Brazil coach Tite after their 2-0 defeat of Mexico on Monday night and he was half right.
In the first 45 minutes against Mexico, Brazil again struggled to get the ball to their best players on a regular basis, due partly to a pragmatic midfield of Casemiro and Paulinho.
Casemiro performs the holding role he has adapted to so well at Real Madrid, but at Real Madrid he is accompanied by Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, two of the best passers in the game, while with Brazil he is accompanied by Paulinho.
Paulinho has had a good season with FC Barcelona, where his ability to break into the box and score key goals was important, but that doesn’t make him one of the great passers in the game.
In the past Brazil would have had Dani Alves and Marcelo tearing upfield from full back, but injury ruled Alves out of the tournament and a hotel mattress (apparently) saw Marcelo start on the bench against Mexico.
His replacement Felipe Luis usually is more solid defensively and gets forward well but has just come back from a broken leg, while, Fagner, who played on the right is no Alves. As a result Brazil struggled to play the ball out as long as Mexico were able to maintain their pressure high up the field and had Mexico been a bit sharper upfront or maybe had a bit more faith, they could have made them pay.
You wonder whether a Belgium with Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazzard and Kevin de Bruyne or France with Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud would be quite as unforgiving.
What can Tite do to change things? Marcelo should be back for the quarterfinals. While the inclusion of Fernandinho, who had a good season with Manchester City, may offer more fluidity than Paulinho, although Casemiro’s suspension means that Paulinho will probably keep his place.
When Mexico tired Brazil created enough chances to have won by more than 2-0. But those first 45 minutes just leave that seed of doubt that against a really top side things might be different.