SAMARA, Russia — There are no curses, Mexico Coach Juan Carlos Osorio had insisted, no reasons to be superstitious about the team’s apparent inability, one World Cup after another, to advance to the quarterfinal round. There are simply good game plans, he said, and good players.
Hoodoo or not, Mexico on Monday had its World Cup run ended spectacularly, maddeningly, by one of the world’s very best players, Neymar, who scored a goal and assisted on another to lead Brazil to a 2-0 win in a round of 16 game at Samara Arena.
It was a depressing finish for Mexico, which has now crashed out of seven consecutive World Cups in the round of 16.
In a multidimensional performance showing all the light and dark of the game, Neymar, 26, was the hero, the villain, the most graceful player in the stadium and, for many, the most vexing.
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“I think we controlled the game, mostly,” said Osorio, who repeatedly criticized Neymar, without calling him out by name, for what he perceived to be an unacceptable amount of playacting in the second half: “I think this is a very negative example for the world and the world of football and all the children following this game.”
Heading into the tournament, Mexico had invested in their mental well-being. They hired a psychologist to bring a level of lucidity to the players’ collective mental state. The players and fans rallied around the phrase “imaginemos cosas chingonas” (a distinctly Mexican sentence that translates roughly to “Let’s imagine amazing things”) uttered by striker Javier Hernández in a fit of passion before the tournament.
A thrilling 1-0 win over Germany, the defending champions, helped the team start the tournament on a euphoric note.
But Brazil, with its overflowing talent, was a challenge too difficult to overcome.
“We’re sad, disappointed, obviously, with a dream that has ended,” Hernández said after the game. “It hurts.”
The Mexicans looked ambitious through the first 20 minutes, dominating the ball, excavating little channels through the Brazilian defense, bringing danger to the Brazilian goal mouth.
But the game took on a different tone in the 25th minute, right about when Neymar turned two defenders inside-out with a head fake and a deceptive dribble and then drilled a shot toward goal that required a fingertip save from goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. Ochoa made a number of crucial saves through the night. But from there to the final whistle, it was Brazil’s match.
Neymar orchestrated Brazil’s opener six minutes into the second half, cutting menacingly from left to right across the 18-yard line, tugging three defenders along with him, before smacking a blind, back heel pass to Willian, reversing the play.
With the defense discombobulated, Neymar abruptly did a U-turn into the box like a Russian cabdriver evading traffic and glided unfettered into the open space just in time to slide a cross from Willian across the goal line with his yellow cleat.
The incident that enraged Osorio came about 20 minutes later. Neymar, as he had on a few occasions already to that point, was taking his time getting back to his feet. Mexican midfielder Miguel Layún came over to collect the ball and pressed his cleat onto the Brazilian’s ankle. Neymar reacted theatrically, assuming a fetal position and writhing on his back, like a turtle flipped onto its shell. The game was paused for several minutes, and the Mexicans watched in frustration, as he was examined.
Tite, the coach of Brazil, put the blame on Layún: “There’s nothing to say,” he said. “You just have to look at the video.”
Layún delivered an underhanded critique: “I think he’s a player with a lot of talent who hopefully one day dedicates himself to playing a little more.”
Osorio was unsparing: “It’s a man’s sport. I think there shouldn’t be so much acting.”
Neymar was cryptic: “I don’t much care for criticism, not even praise.”
Osorio had every reason to be frustrated. The team’s heroics in the group stage had inspired Mexico’s horde of traveling fans to sing his name from the stands — a remarkable turnaround for a coach pelted with criticism in the weeks heading into the tournament. But the good feelings withered in the heat of Samara.
It was Neymar, again, who conjured Brazil’s second goal, finishing a powerful dribbling run down the left wing with an outside-of-the-foot cross pass to Roberto Firmino, who needed only to tap the ball into the net.
Mexico’s fans, who had turned every game in Russia into a virtual home game for their team, were quiet for perhaps the first time this month.
The final whistle, minutes later, signaled the end of the road. There was no curse to blame, only Neymar — brilliant, exasperating Neymar.
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Here’s how Brazil beat Mexico, from Andrew Das in Moscow:
Brazil looks to be the World Cup favorite after a dominating performance against Mexico. Neymar was all over the field, and his defense appears to be more than up to the task.
One last gasp for Mexico, but Allison is up to the task. Jimenez lets one fly, but a defender clips it.
Guardado gets a late yellow, which feels like a score-settling, I’m-just-mad-at-the-world yellow at this point.
It’s hard to believe, given the feelings and the optimism after Mexico opened the tournament with its stunning win over Germany, but they’re going out — again — in their first knockout game. That’s seven straight World Cups that they’ve made it out of the group only to fall at the first hurdle. And it’ll be a bitter disappointment: they were primed and talented and prepared, and then they ran into Brazil.
Neymar bursts down the left and pokes a shot past Ochoa with his right foot. Ochoa gets a toe on it — just enough to keep it off line — but Firmino is the first man to it in the goal mouth and he buries it. Brazil 2, Mexico 0. And that’ll be that in this one.
Osorio is red with rage on the sideline. No clue why, but that’s not acting: he’s maaad.
Brazil defends a corner but Alisson has to come out for a punch to save it. Bad things happen on plays like that, but fortunately for him, Mexico was offside. Tick, tick, tick ......
Here’s the second Brazil sub: Firmino on for his former Liverpool teammate Coutinho.
While the possession is 50-50 today, Brazil has had more shots, more shots on target, more corners and, most crucially, one more goal. Deserved leaders, but they haven’t put El Tri away yet. That’s dangerous, especially in these final desperate minutes.
Thiago Silva down for treatment now; Brazil knows how to play this slowdown game better than most teams, too. They’ve got alllllll the skills.
It’s worth noting that Brazil has given up one goal in Russia: in the 50th minute of its opening tie against Switzerland. They’ve been rock solid at the back ever since. Mexico, on the other hand, is nearly its second straight shutout defeat if they can’t find a goal soon.
Paulinho off, Fernandinho off. Some would argue they just got a better version of the same player.
High-fives for Fagner at the back after he holds off Lozano and somehow manages to win a goal kick. Brazil can sense it. Mexico has 15 minutes or so to get something going.
Tape-delayed yellow card for Layun there after another Neymar takedown in midfield. He protests briefly, but the referee isn’t having it. That was probably payback for the earlier one.
Mexico has made three subs and Brazil none. So why is it that Mexico looks gassed?
Rocchi choose to pass on a review; maybe Neymar looked a little tooooooooo hurt. Anyway, Layun stays on, and play resumes.
Neymar really made a meal of it, though, pounding the turf in agony (honestly, it didn’t look like he got raked or anything). But now the delay would give the referee the chance to take a look.
Neymar writhing on the ground next to the Brazil bench. But it looks like Layun was a bit naughty there. He stomped on his ankle as he came over to get the ball while Neymar lay on the turf.
A SUPER ball from Salcedo creates a chance on the right for Herrera, but his cross just misses the noggin of Dos Santos and Guardado, first to the free ball, has it blocked by two charging Brazilians.
If you’re Juan Carlos Osorio, you’d like more of that.
Carlos Vela turns a promising Mexico attack into a sudden Brazilian counter with an inexcusably loose pass in midfield. Willian promptly finds Neymar, who pivots and — thankfully for Vela — rolls his shot around the left post.
Raul Jimenez, who quietly came on for Chicharito a few minutes ago, allows his first real action to be a ball lost between his legs. Ack.
That sure looked like a foul on Lozano as he cut across the top of the area, but Mr. Rocchi doesn’t blow his whistle, and the chance fades away.
Willian uses a stepover to lose Salcedo and rips a right-footed shot that Ochoa is lucky to push over.
Neymar, down again, appears to be asking why the superstar treatment is not in effect today. “Do you know who I am? I’m Neymar!”
Something out of nothing for Mexico there: a ball up the left springs Lozano, and Vela winds up with it on the right. Alisson reaches up and pushes his bending shot over the bar.
Fagner absolutely tees up Paulinho at the spot, but he hits Ochoa right in the mitts. At the other end, Casemiro goes into the book with a yellow. That’s his second, so he’ll miss the quarterfinals if Brazil holds on and wins today.
If they don’t hold on and win, of course, all the Brazilians will miss the quarterfinals.
Brazil, aware of the lesson Spain learned on Sunday, is hunting a second goal now. Why wait? Neymar fires from distance but it’s just wide.
Nice bit of footwork by Carlos Vela at midfield. He manages to pull three Brazilians out of position, but when he finally wriggles free he’s just so tired he passes it back.
Mexico in again, through Carlos Vela on the left. He goes down and the ball goes out. Brazil appeals for a goal kick. Mexico wants a penalty. The ref picks — corner!
The goal stands after a quick VAR inspection for offside, and now here comes Mexico straight off the kickoff. The goal has spiced things up nicely. In elimination games, they tend to do that.
That was pretty. Neymar walked the ball across the top of the area and then, just when it looked like he’d gone too far, backheeled it to Willian. Willian pushed it through into space just to the left of the goal, and his cutback is met by ... Neymar, who never stopped running.
A secondary breakout led by Gallardo gives him options left, right and center. So of course he curls a shot five yards over Alisson’s crossbar.
Mexico nearly caught snoozing on the corner, as Coutinho is allowed to walk in and tee up a shot on Ochoa. The keeper isn’t pleased, and slaps his hands and reminds his teammates they’re there to protect him.
Layun, at least initially, seems to have slotted in at right back, pushing Alvarez into the central midfield role Marquez vacated. But let’s give it a few minutes to be sure.
One change for Mexico at halftime: A now-blond Miguel Layun replaces Marquez, who gave them a half in this intense heat.
Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa became the first goalkeeper of this World Cup to make 20 saves. He’s had a couple big ones today.
Mexico will be far more pleased with that half than Brazil, which was the more dangerous team but still had to fight off a couple nervous moments. Brazil is the favorite today though, by a wide margin, so every minute they’re not winning is a minute wasted for them, and a minute of hope for Mexico.
Andrew Keh: Chicharito, who seemed to be moving gingerly at times in that half, jogged quickly into the locker room at the whistle while the 21 other players on the field walked. He may have some injury to sort out.
Brazil’s Filipe Luis joins Alvarez in the referee’s notebook with a lunging toe stab at Vela. Stopped the attack, however, so maybe it was worth it.
The same is true for its corners ... Brazil’s third of the day is easily dealt with by Marquez.
Brazil’s one-touch, give-and-go game is world class so far. It’s crossing, however, is high school gym class, and so another moment that gave us all hope fades away.
Neymar takes the free kick himself, but it’s a couple yards high and a couple yards wide. No problem for Ochoa, who is happy to watch is sail past.
Well, nothing ticky-tack about that one: Alvarez tries to cut Neymar in half. He doesn’t succeed, but does manage to bring him down. That’ll be a yellow for the right back, which may make his job — keeping Neymar in check — quite a bit more difficult.
And the ticky-tack ankle-clipping portion of the game has begun. The referee Gianliuca Rocchi gives a warning: yellow cards to come.
Mexico’s Hirving Lozano over on the left now, where he’s promptly whacked by Fagner. “Welcome to this side. This is how we roll over here,” he says. “You might be more comfortable back over there.”
Double save for Guillermo Ochoa and Mexico! Brazil’s ball feints work again, and result in a pair of shots for Gabriel Jesus and Coutinho. Mexico blocks both, though, and breathes a sigh of relief.
After another foiled attack from Brazil, Alvarez, stalling on a throw at midfield, makes the universal “just chill a sec” signal. Maybe he’s right. He could have been talking to both teams.
A Brazil free kick leads to some more scrambling: an awkward header, an Ochoa save, a Gabriel Jesus shot after he collects the rebound, and a kick save by Ayala — the center back — to keep it out. Coutinho lets everyone catch their breath by blasting THAT rebound high over the bar.
Oooh Neymar. He just crossed over Alvarez there like a point guard in the open court. (Alvarez, to his eternal credit, didn’t fall over.) But Ochoa is out to make himself just big enough to block the shot. Super move, super save.
About those Mexico counterattacks: they’ll probably want to go faster, more urgently, when they can to try to catch Brazil, which won’t like it anymore than Germany did. But the tired legs and three games in the group may be showing a bit; the pace just isn’t there so far.
Another breakout for Mexico — this is where they can be at their most dangerous — but the runs don’t have the same pace as the ones that tormented Germany in the opening game. Still, the secondary buildup produces a chance — Herrera pulls a ball around a sliding Miranda just in side the top of the area, but pulling the trigger takes a beat too long, and his attempt is blocked.
Crazy attacking sequence by Mexico there: Vela bad header, Chicharito overhead kick from the sideline to Guardado in the center, one-touch to Vela, cross to Herrera for a shot. Which is blocked. Feels like we deserved better after all that.
A bit more danger for Brazil there, as a cross proves troubling problematic. Mexico with a corner, but Brazil’s winning all of these aerial battles for now.
Just to clarify: Salcedo is the blond Mexican in defense. Chicharito is the blond Mexican in attack.
Danger for Brazil there, as they lost Chicharito down the left. But they scramble back and Miranda, losing his footing in the area, pokes the ball off his feet just long enough for a teammate to clear.
Great run by Carlos Vela up the left ends up in the area; he seemed surprised, almost, that Fagner let him in so easily.
On the corner that follows, a header sails high into the air and Alisson and Chicharito battle for it. The giant Brazilian keeper wins that fight every time.
Marquez has parked himself in front of the center backs, Ayala and Salcedo, as a deep-lying midfielder/forward-covering center back. He’ll be there all day, providing cover and guidance as Brazil charges in.
A giveaway by Mexico gives Neymar an open look at the top of the penalty area. THIS IS NOT A GOOD STRATEGY MEXICO! His knuckling shot fools Ochoa a bit, but it’s straight at him, so he just punches it away.
And Neymar takes his first dramatic tumble to win a free kick. It won’t be his last.
Fagner gets run over, and stepped on, by Chicharito as he tries to break across the midfield stripe. Sorry not sorry, Hernandez says. Free kick for Brazil.
That one from Guardado is better: he gets in faster, and sends in a dangerous cross that Alisson has to dive to poke away. The clearance gets Mexico a corner though, which they promptly waste.
Mexico gets us going and tries to spring Guardado down the left. But he’s got no option, and ran a bit deep, and then kicks the ball out himself for a goal kick. Mexico will want to be direct again, though. But loner runs like that are easy for Brazil to handle.
There’s confirmation that Brazil makes only one change, sending out Filipe Luis for the injured Marcelo.
1 Alisson (Roma)
2 Thiago Silva (Paris St Germain)
3 Miranda (Inter Milan)
5 Casemiro (Real Madrid)
6 Filipe Luis (Atlético Madrid)
9 Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City)
10 Neymar (Paris St Germain)
11 Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona)
15 Paulinho (Barcelona)
19 Willian (Chelsea)
22 Fagner (Corinthians)
13 Guillermo Ochoa (Standard Liege)
2 Hugo Ayala (Tigres)
3 Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt)
4 Rafael Marquez (Atlas)
11 Carlos Vela (Los Angeles FC)
14 Javier Hernandez (West Ham)
16 Hector Herrera (Porto)
18 Andres Guardado (Real Betis)
21 Edson Alvarez (America)
22 Hirving Lozano (PSV Eindhoven)
23 Jesus Gallardo (Monterrey)
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