Brazil defeated Mexico 2-0 today to advance to the semifinals of the Confederations Cup as a result of Italy’s thrilling 4-3 victory over Japan. Neymar stole the show from the protesters who had gathered outside the stadium in Fortaleza by scoring his second spectacular goal for Brazil in as many games, creating innumerable problems for Mexican defenses and delivering a classy assist to striker Jo for Brazil’s second goal after some brilliant lead up play. The match showcased Neymar’s ability to “bear the weight” of Brazil’s legendary number 10 shirt, which was recently given to him by coach Luiz Felipe Scolari after a lengthy spell wherein Chelsea’s Oscar owned the number 10 jersey under the previous Brazil coach, Mano Menezes. Neymar has been the best player of the Confederations Cup by far, and his efflorescence of form arrives at exactly the right moment not only for the team, but also for fans and pundits who were beginning to write him off as a player that was unable to perform at a high level against non-Brazilian opposition.
Once again, Scolari resorted to his trademark tactic of initiating Brazil’s attack from the flanks, with Neymar, Hulk, Marcelo and Dani Alves all combining to stretch the Mexican defense. The first goal resulted from a Dani Alves cross that the Mexican defense failed to clear such that the ball landed to Neymar, who dispatched a brilliant volley into the back of the net. As in the first game against Japan, Neymar opened the scoring with a volley, but against Mexico, he scored with his left foot as opposed to his right in a move that recalled Brazil legend Ronaldo’s unique ability to effortlessly shoot off both feet. In the 15th minute, Dani Alves almost made it 2-0 with a skillful long range chip that Mexico’s goalkeeper Corona flicked over the bar at the last minute.
Mexico gathered their composure and applied pressure in the remainder of the first half, but quality chances were few and far between. Mexico’s right back Hiram Mier surged forward and managed to get around David Luiz but shot just wide of goal. Similarly, Dos Santos delivered a dangerous long range shot in the final minutes of the half but to no avail. Meanwhile, much of Brazil’s attention in the first half was centered around David Luiz, who bloodied his nose in a collision with Thiago Silva, and spent much of the half receiving medical attention on and off the field.
The game opened up again in the early minutes of the second half, with a disallowed Thiago Silva goal from a Neymar free kick, and a glorious opportunity for Hulk that the Zenit striker wasted by sending the ball squarely into the side netting instead of crossing to a teammate or shooting low, far post. Mexico then failed to convert a golden chance when Giovanni Dos Santos broke free down the left flank and crossed to Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, but David Luiz brilliantly intercepted the ball to keep the score 1-0 Brazil. Neymar had a couple of additional chances in the second half, but his most dazzling piece of artistry came in stoppage time when he sidestepped two defenders on the left edge of the box, burst into the penalty area and laid the ball on a platter for substitute Jo, who coolly sent the ball into the roof of the net for his second consecutive Confederations Cup goal.
The victory marked sweet revenge for Brazil who lost to Mexico in the final of the 2012 Olympics and recently in a friendly in Dallas as well. Alarmingly for Brazil, however, centre-back David Luiz broke his nose during the game even though he played all 90 minutes, and it remains to be seen whether Luiz will be able to continue for the remainder of the tournament. The good news for Brazil is that Italy’s dramatic 4-3 defeat of Japan means that both teams qualify for the semifinals, and hence have the luxury of resting key players for the third and final match of the group stage. That said, a second place finish in Group A would presumably require playing Spain in the semifinals, which both teams are likely to want to avoid. Mexico, meanwhile, were soundly eliminated after suffering two consecutive defeats and their problems continue to multiply given recent poor performances in Hexagonal Concacaf group qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.