“Quintido partido” is a place Mexico has been trying to reach for 32 years. For Brazil, anything less is a failure to reach the minimum of expectations that come with being a global power in football.
El Tri seek their elusive breakthrough at the expense of the five-time champions Selecao on Monday in Samara in their round of 16 match at the World Cup.
Since being ineligible for the 1990 World Cup due to the “Cachirules” scandal, Mexico has advanced out of group play in all seven World Cups since. But its quest to lift the Jules Rimet trophy has stopped immediately after that in all previous six tournaments, leaving a lengthy trail of frustration well into its second generation of supporters.
The list of teams who have knocked El Tri out of the World Cup before the quarterfinals is varied in terms of both location and quality, and only Argentina has done it twice. In 1994, it was upstart and eventual semifinalist Bulgaria on penalty kicks. Four years later in France, four-time champion Germany.
Their archrival, the United States, turned the trick in 2002, rope-a-doping them on the counter in a 2-0 victory that paved the way for the rise of “soccer” north of Mexico’s border. In 2006, Maxi Rodriguez’s wonder strike in extra time for Argentina added to the misery.
The rematch in 2010 was more straightforward as La Albiceleste only needed 90 minutes. Four years ago, Mexico collapsed late against the Netherlands, allowing the tying goal in the 88th minute and conceding a penalty in stoppage time.
The hopes of a nation soared early in Russia as El Tri started brightly with a 1-0 shock victory over reigning champion Germany, followed by a workmanlike 2-1 victory over South Korea. But those dreams of grandeur a nightmarish turn for nearly 20 minutes Wednesday when supporters watched their team get manhandled by Sweden 3-0 in their final group match and then had to endure Die Mannschaft laying siege to the South Korean goal.
The scenario in which Mexico could have been the first team in World Cup history eliminated from group play on six points was in play as Germany needed just one goal to advance. But the Taegeuk Warriors saved them from such a hellish fate, scoring twice late to earn the gratitude of football-mad Mexico and allowing them yet another opportunity to reach “quinto partido” for the first time since getting there as host in 1986.
Brazil, meanwhile, has been to the quarterfinals or further in every World Cup in that span, winning it in both 1994 and 2002 to add those fourth and fifth stars stitched onto the trademark yellow jersey.
The last time the Selecao failed to reach the round of eight came in Italy in 1990 at the hands of archrivals Diego Maradona and Argentina in a match more remembered after the fact for Maradona confessing he offered Branco water spiked with tranquilizers at halftime in an attempt to slow him.
While there are still scars of the 7-1 semifinal beatdown Germany administered in Brazil four years ago, there are signs the Selecao have moved on from that scandalous loss and are viable contenders to win a sixth title.
Neymar’s cathartic tears after scoring in the middle match late against Costa Rica was followed by Brazil’s pragmatic 2-0 victory against Serbia in which a flash of his jogo bonito came with the way he did a rabona to stop a long pass at his feet. The Selecao allowed only one goal in the three matches, one they would argue should have been disallowed had VAR been used properly, but there is a balance this team has under Tite more obvious than in Brazils of the past.
Whether that means this Selecao are as great as those other teams, of course, starts with this match to reach the “quintido partido.”
HOW THEY GOT HERE
June 17 — Brazil 1, Switzerland 1 (Coutinho 20′, Zuber 50′)
June 22 — Brazil 2, Costa Rica 0 (Coutinho 90+1′, Neymar 90+7′)
June 27 — Brazil 2, Serbia 0 (Paulinho 36′, Thiago Silva 68′)
June 17 — Mexico 1, Germany 0 (Lozano 35′)
June 23 – Mexico 2, South Korea 1 (Vela 26′ (PK), Hernandez 66′, Son 90+3′)
June 27 — Mexico 0, Sweden 3 (Augustinsson 50′, Granqvist 62′ (PK), Alvarez 74′ (og))
The changes for Brazil are going to take place on both flanks on the back line. With Marcelo likely restricted to a reserve role due to the back spasms that forced him off after 10 minutes against Serbia, Filipe Luis could be in line for a start at left back. On the right side, Danilo has been cleared to play after missing two matches and will be restored to the starting XI, displacing Fagner.
For Mexico, coach Juan Carlos Osorio has been forced into one change as defender Hector Moreno will serve a one-match ban for his two yellow cards accrued in group play. The most likely personnel shuffle sees Carlos Salcedo taking that spot at left center back and Hugo Ayala returning to the lineup after his lone start against Germany.
INJURED AND INLEIGIBLES
Brazil is still without first-choice right forward Douglas Costa, who has played just one half of football in Russia and is dealing with a thigh injury. The three most important Selecao players — Neymar, Coutinho and Casemiro — are all on a yellow and would miss the quarterfinals with a second booking.
Aside from Moreno’s enforced absence, everyone on El Tri appear to be healthy and available for selection by Osorio. Like Brazil, Mexico has three players on a booking as Miguel Layun, Hector Herrera and Jesus Gallardo all carry a yellow card.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Brazil – Thiago Silva (D)
His defensive work sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of Brazil’s offensive greatness, but the PSG man also gets it done at the other end of the pitch. His goal against Switzerland was his sixth in 74 international appearances, but given how Mexico likes to counterattack, he is going to have to win tackles in the run of play for the Selecao to be successful in this contest.
Mexico – Carlos Vela (F)
Vela’s goal in Russia came from the penalty spot, but his all-out industry for the hour or 65 minutes he gives Osorio is what makes Mexico so effective on the counter. He has the pace to drop back to start the counter or be the outlet in the middle of the pitch to carry the ball for either Chicharito Hernandez or Hirving Lozano into the final third. If Vela can find gaps behind Paulinho and Coutinho and take on Casemiro 1-on-1, Mexico could find success.
WORLD CUP HISTORY HEAD-TO-HEAD
1950 (Brazil) Brazil 4, Mexico 0 (Ademir 30′, Jair 65′, Baltazar 71′, Ademir 79′)
1954 (Switzerland) Brazil 5, Mexico 0 (Baltazar 23′, Didi ’30, Pinga 34′, Pinga 43′, Julinho 69′)
1962 (Chile) Brazil 2, Mexico 0 (Zagallo 56′, Pele 73′)
2014 (Brazil) Brazil 0, Mexico 0
As the scorelines show, Mexico has yet to score against Brazil while shipping 11 goals in the World Cup, though all four of those matches came in group play. The teams have met once since their last World Cup meeting, with Coutinho contributing a goal to a 2-0 victory in a friendly in 2015.
Mexico has 10 wins in 40 all-time meetings at the senior level, most recently a 2-0 victory in a friendly in 2012. El Tri’s last victory in a tournament setting over Brazil came in group play at the 2007 Copa America.
Per Ladbrokes, Brazil is a heavy favorite at 1/2 odds, while Mexico is a 6/1 underdog. The odds of the match ending in a draw and going to penalty kicks is 29/10. For first goal-scorers, Neymar is the top pick at 11/4, followed by Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino at 4/1 and Coutinho at 5/1. Hernandez is the top option among Mexico players with 8/1 odds.
Every four years, a referendum on Mexican football takes place with this round of 16 match. While Osorio deserves all the credit for letting his players dream big and getting his tactics right against Germany and South Korea, it was clear the pressure of the moment got to his side against Sweden.
And there is still some uneasiness about El Tri. After all, Osorio was in charge of the 7-0 debacle against Chile in the, say it with me, quarterfinals of the 2016 Copa America Centenario that ended a 22-match unbeaten streak and nearly cost the Colombian his job.
For all the pragmatism Brazil has shown under Tite, it will not going to sit back against Mexico, which will play to El Tri’s counterattacking strength. The Selecao are too proud to simply sit on possesson, and Willian may emerge as a pivotal figure on the right to pick apart a Mexico backline without Moreno.
In the scoreless draw against Brazil four years ago, Ochoa turned in an inspired effort with a world-class quality save on Neymar and a late stop at point-blank range by Thiago Silva to secure the point. He finished with eight saves in that contest, and despite the 8-3 edge in shots on goal for Brazil, El Tri finished with one fewer shot (14-13).
Mexico is one of the few teams in the world not awed by Brazil and often relishes the challenge of facing the Selecao. However, it is also a matchup that does not curry them any favors. The wait for “quintido partido” will continue for Mexico while Brazil moves on to the quarterfinals once more.
PREDICTION: Brazil 3, Mexico 1.
The winner of this match will play the winner of the Belgium-Japan match in the quarterfinals July 6 in Kazan.