Although Mexico faced South Africa in 2010, facing Brazil in the 2014 World Cup was going to be an experience like none other. With the previous Olympic defeat in their minds, the Scratch du Oro were eager to show the world that such defeat was only a slip in their winning history. With a stadium almost full of canarinho fans and a overly passionate chant of Brazil’s national anthem, the Brazilian squad quickly showed that things were different this time.
Once the game started, it was clear that both teams had studied their opponents. Brazil came out with the objective of neutralizing Mexico’s midfield, specially Vázquez and Herrrera, forcing Mexico to only pursue counter attack opportunities. As the game progressed, the pressure from Brazil and it’s fans took a toll on Mexico but Ochoa made a statement as to why he starts as keeper for El Tri. In the second half, Mexico clearly had instructions of shooting from long distance since Brazil’s defense was not letting Mexico play near Julio Cesar. Brazil kept the same game plan and were witnesses of Ochoa’s impressive performance. In the end, Mexico’s left Fortaleza with one more point and a higher probability of passing on to the knockout stage.
It is clear that when the hero of a game is your keeper there are many things to rectify from your display. For instance, although Mexico and Brazil shot almost the same amount of times, Mexico was only able to reach the target three times, while Brazil hit the target eight times.
However, Mexico’s shots were no threat for Brazil’s goal, while some of Brazil’s chances miraculously did not go in. In other words, Mexico’s World Cup run could fall short if the defense is not able to stop rivals from shooting on goal as much and if the offense does not sharpen its aim.
As for Monday’s game, the Blazers are still an incognito in Brazil since they have been inconsistent and have not shown the same display in their past two group stage games; moreover, their superstar players, Modric and Rakitic, have not played up to their reputations and are still to show why they are valued so highly.
Croatia will probably be well aware that one of Mexico’s weak spots are set pieces and crosses and with Mandzukic on the field, every cross and corner will be considered a threat for Mexico’s goal.
In numbers, according to fivethirtyeight.com, Mexico’s probability of passing on to the round of 16 is 68%, leaving Croatia only with only a 32% chance of moving on to knockout stage. Nevertheless, we have only seen four ties in the fist two rounds of group stage games and with Croatia’s need of three points, it is unlikely that the score will finish level. Then again, Mexico will not only rely on numbers. A much better team play, an “unbeatable” keeper, a inhospitable climate and a stadium full of Mexicans will be some aspects that will tilt the scales in Mexico’s favor. As well, luck has been on Mexico’s side since the qualifiers and has now showed against Brazil that they have no intentions of leaving Mexico.
Nevertheless, setting aside any argument in favor of these squads, a tiny mistake or a skillful action could be the difference between victory or defeat in such a close game. We are in for an early knockout stage treat that will see once more if team work may go further than individualities. Either way, no matter the scoreboard, the football that will be displayed on Monday will surely leave football victorious.