Up 2-1 at halftime in a match Brazil had to win to win Group A, Scolari removed Paulinho in favor of City-boy, Fernandinho. His influence was immediately felt as it took him all of four minutes to spark a goal, playing in Luiz who squared across for Fred to head in (admittedly in an offside position).
Thirty-five minutes later came the moment he (and every City fan) have been waiting for: his first World Cup goal (and the first goal of this tournament scored by a City player). Having somehow been second best to Paulinho through two and a half games – games in which Brazil have struggled through, no less – Scolari finally treated the world to City’s (apparently) best kept secret. Surely now, the immaculate Fernandinho, will get to start.
Mexico (in a bit of a bore) finally score
Having scored just once all tournament – in their 1-0 victory over Cameroon – Mexico have proved to be a bit of an anomaly in this World Cup. That is to say, they’ve been defensively sound at the expense of their offensive output.
Playing in a 5-3-2, they’ve been the better side in two of their matches while at worst, proving to be Brazil’s equal, Mexico have disappointed most in their inability to find the back of the net. No longer, as they advance from Group A after their 3-1 victory against Croatia.
Having been denied what looked to be a stonewall penalty after Darijo Srna handled the ball in the box (their third or fourth unlucky decision from the referee this World Cup), Mexico ultimately scored three times in a ten minute spell, perhaps confirming that when it rains, it does in fact pour.
The Croatian midfield again a disappointment
Boasting one of Real Madrid’s most influential players, a midfielder who’s just recently earned a move to Barcelona, and Inter Milan’s best midfielder – while also proving to be one of the best prospects in world football – Croatia’s midfield disappeared far too often in this tournament.
Many, myself included, expected Luka Modric to be one of this tournament’s standout midfielders; instead, his tournament has ended early – without a goal or assist to his name – after three subpar and ultimately disappointing performances. And outside of his 87th minute backheeled assist to Perisic (Croatia's best player this tournament), Ivan Rakitic followed in Modric's disappointing footsteps.
A look ahead to…
Brazil vs Chile
Having won Group A on goal difference (following a 0-0 draw with runners-up Mexico), Brazil advances to the Round of 16 to meet Chile, a side that impressed in wins against Spain and Australia before losing their final group match against Netherlands.
It’s exactly the type of opponent that Brazil will fear meeting: Sampaoli’s Chile are a ferocious bunch, counterattacking at pace while playing a team-wide press that takes them high up the pitch.
At the fear of sounding Homerific, Scolari’s decision (Fernandinho v Paulinho) might well decide the winner. Brazil looked a much more complete side in the second half against Cameroon, as Fernandinho brought a hereto missing dynamic element to the previously physically imposing but underperforming Brazilian midfield.
Netherlands vs Mexico
Netherlands, the co-surprise of the tournament (with Costa Rica, if you’re wondering), top Group B having secured all nine possible points in their 2-0 victory against Chile in the final round of their group fixtures. They opened eyes – and silenced critics – in their 5-1 opening round demolition of Spain and have never looked back.
Their Round of 16 tie against Mexico should prove a tactician’s treat, as both sides have hereto played in a 5-3-2; a formation which has seen Mexico concede just once while proving the catalyst to Holland's counter-attacking dream, scoring 10 goals in three matches.
Until tomorrow then…