|Neymar and a teammate, during a training session
Sao Paulo: World Cup favourites Brazil will be expected to defeat Mexico in the second round of Group A matches in Fortaleza, on Tuesday, but their Latin American neighbours have no reason to feel overawed.
The Mexicans have won big matches against Brazil before, beating them 4-3 in the final of the Confederations Cup in 1999, and more recently, in the Olympic final in London.
The match featured several players expected to line up in Fortaleza, including Neymar, Oscar and Thiago Silva for Brazil, and Oribe Peralta, the striker whose brace gave Mexico a 2-1 victory.
It gives Brazil pause for thought as they seek their 11th consecutive win.
“We know that Mexico are a good team, they always give Brazil a hard time and it won’t be any different when we play in the next match,” Oscar, one of the stars of the 3-1 opening day win over Croatia, said at the team’s base camp on Saturday.
“Mexico are good coming forward and they are very fast on the counter attack,” the Chelsea midfielder said. “The training we are going to do this week ahead of the Mexico game will be different from the training we did before facing Croatia. Mexico play totally differently from Croatia.”
Mexico will also be encouraged by a rain-sodden 1-0 win over Cameroon on Friday when they received fantastic support from their travelling fans.
|Oscar and Dani Alves discuss a point
The home side have won 22 of the 38 previous encounters including the most recent match, almost exactly a year ago in the same stadium in the Confederations Cup when Brazil romped home more comfortably than the 2-0 scoreline suggested.
However, Mexico have won seven of the last 15 matches against the five-time world champions, including two of the last four.
Both teams — and fans the world over — will also be watching the referee almost as closely as the players.
Brazil were given a contentious penalty at a crucial moment of the Croatia match, prompting talk about home field bias. And TV replays showed Mexico had two good goals disallowed before they finally got the winner in their opener against Cameroon.
The winner of Tuesday’s match will be guaranteed a spot in the next round if Cameroon and Croatia draw their match on Wednesday, in the jungle city of Manaus.
“Every match against Mexico is difficult,” Brazil defender Henrique said. “They have players with a lot of quality. That is always the case.”
One of these quality players is Giovani dos Santos, who had one of his best performances with the national team in the opener against Cameroon.
“I’m happy with how the team has been playing collectively,” Dos Santos said. “I think we are all understanding very well what (coach) Miguel Herrera wants us to do on the field. I see a very strong group and I’m very happy because of that.”
Brazil again will be led by Neymar, who scored twice in the opener. But he also received a yellow card in the match in Sao Paulo, and another would sideline him from the final group stage match.
“I don’t think that will come into play,” Oscar said. “Usually the players marking Neymar are the ones who receive the yellow, not the other way around.”
Brazilian forward Hulk has undergone tests on a thigh injury and a decision on his fitness will be made, team officials said on Monday.
The burly striker limped out of a training session on Sunday morning, but said it was a precaution and that he expected to be fit.
However, officials said Hulk underwent magnetic resonance tests in Fortaleza.
But it’s not only about Neymar, it’s also Oscar who has been a standout player.
Hardly the most extrovert or outspoken member of the Brazil squad, Oscar chose to keep his own counsel as the doubters circled in the run-up to the World Cup.
Ignoring the speculation surrounding a below-par end to the season at Chelsea, the potential distraction of the imminent birth of his daughter Julia — now ten days old — and the fact his place in the starting XI was under threat, Oscar saved his answers for the pitch.
And answer he did, emphatically, in the hard-fought victory over Croatia.
While it was two-goal forward Neymar who grabbed the headlines and the Man of the Match award, Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari — the only man Oscar was interested in impressing — later insisted his young No.11 was not far behind.
“I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone,” the versatile midfielder had told fifa.com. “If I did need to prove something, then it was only to Scolari, and he always showed total faith in me.”
Scolari further praised Oscar as he said: “Following the game, our scout told us Oscar intercepted more balls than any other player and was our most creative player down the right.
“He ran with the ball and instigated lots of attacks. I’m not going to just drop a player like that from one day to the next. The [man of the match] award was given to Neymar, but if there’d been another, he [Oscar] would’ve got it.”
Oscar capped a fine performance against Croatia with a finish his legendary predecessor in Brazil’s No.11 shirt would have been proud of. “That’s right, it was a real toe-poke — Romario-style!” he said.
Mexico are no pushovers and so Brazil could do with such Romario-style goal-scoring.