World Cup wrap, Day 19: Belgium pull off comeback win over Japan, Neymar leads Brazil past Mexico
Today’s wrap is brought to you by the number ‘seven’. Lucky for some, but not, it turns out for Mexico. For the seventh World Cup in succession, El Tri exited the World Cup at the Round of 16. Mexico attacked during an even first half, but after the break – and especially after a going a goal down to Neymar’s strike on 51 minutes – it never looked likely Mexico could get back into the game.
Brazil has a somewhat different relationship to the number. This is the seventh World Cup tournament in succession that Brazil has reached at least the quarter-final stage. The five-time champions did so while producing their best display of this year’s competition.
Willian worked so hard there seemed to be two of him on the pitch, Coutinho provided the invention, Gabriel Jesus threatened, Firmino scored after his arrival as a substitute, while that man Neymar looked his sharpest yet. Add to the fact that Brazil hasn’t conceded in three consecutive games and the evidence is mounting up: this is the team to beat in 2018.
Today in 30 seconds
Thirty seconds was approximately how far Japan were from taking Belgium into extra time. After taking a shock 2-0 lead after the break - Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui with the pinpoint strikes – Japan were pegged back to 2-2 by headed goals from Jan Vertonghen and Marouane Fellaini.
Then, as the Blue Samurai pushed for a winning goal late on, Belgium struck on the counter-attack and Nacer Chadli scored a winner four minutes into injury time. It was heartbreak for a brave Blue Samurai, but a reprieve for the criticized Belgium manager, Roberto Martinez, as his substitutes Fellaini and Chadli made the difference late on.
In the wake of Spain’s shock exit and the inevitable recriminations, one thing the whole soccer world can agree upon. Andres Iniesta announced his retirement from international football and the softly-spoken magician will go down as a World Cup legend. Scorer of the goal that won the World Cup for Spain eight years ago, his dedicating that goal to the deceased Dani Jarque will live on forever. Thank you, Andres.
Play of the day
A reminder that, even in soccer’s ‘age of the individual’, the collective is still crucial. Brazil got their breakthrough against Mexico when Neymar’s clever backheel pass found Willian, who broke through the Mexican defense, then passed the ball back across the goal for Neymar to score. A wonderfully-worked team goal.
Man of the moment
Up until now, Coutinho has been the main man for Brazil. But against Mexico, Neymar came to the party. He started and finished the move that gave his team the lead, then produced the late run which gave Brazil a two-goal advantage.
Of course, the Brazilian No.10 wouldn’t be who he is – a player adored and, frankly, less adored in equal measure – if there wasn’t controversy too. His writhing in melodramatic agony after Miguel Layun’s trod sneakily, but relatively gently, on him left a sour taste to some, particularly given how quick he was to get up and play on afterwards. Some might say we’ve seen the best and worst of Neymar in Russia – but today was definitely a day when the brilliant outweighed the bad.
The weird and wacky
They were weird and wacky, loud and proud. While Mexico couldn’t break its Round of 16 curse, the fans that travelled to Russia won over their locals. From their eye-catching costumes to putting on a bespoke ‘Day of the Dead’ in Moscow attended by 5,000 Russians, the carnival atmosphere has swept through the capital city.
While many European supporters have stayed at home, fans from South and Central America have travelled to Mexico in huge numbers. Mexico’s exit to Brazil means the last CONCACAF team has exited Russia 2018, but El Tri’s supporters have won the hearts of the hosts – even if their side couldn’t win that pesky first knockout game once more.
England is in action against Colombia in the last of the Round of 16 games.
10 a.m. ET Sweden vs. Switzerland, FS1
2 p.m. ET Colombia vs. England, Fox