Another day of fulfilling football for neutrals, who may have been a bit let down by the first game of the day, but certainly weren't disappointed by the second, in an inverse of expectations which had the Mexico/Brazil match set as the thriller and Belgium/Japan as the rollover.
Mexico had a game plan and tried to attack Brazil down the wings when in possession, but ended up lacking the quality of service and build-up to untie the Seleção. With only one striker to aim at, their crosses were more of a prayer than a tactic, and all efforts were smothered before flashing dangerous, especially in the second half. There was energy and fervor going into the game for fans and players alike, but ultimately many of us were caught in the hype, wanting to believe Mexico could knock off another giant. We may have missed the writing on the wall, which came last week when El Tri failed to take a point from Sweden in their third group game, advancing only due to the heroic efforts of the South Koreans.
They should still take the Koreans out to dinner.
Brazil were keen to the Mexican counter throughout, becoming more dangerous as the game opened up and their creatives were allowed more freedom. Neymar, who scored one and assisted one on the day, has really looked like the golden boy he's been touted to be, but fans and FIFA alike should look at his embellishment with a little more scrutiny—did Leyun step on him in the 66th minute? Sure, but the kind of screaming and rolling around he does is product of a leg break or a murdered child, not a stud to the shinpad.
Brazil are one of few recent champions left on the bracket and they look promising in the attack, no doubt, but their second-choice wingbacks in Fagner and Felipe Luis can be gotten behind, and many still remember how hard they can fall.
The boy who cried wolf.
In the second game of the day, 1,318 kilometers away in Samara Arena, Belgium took on Japan, the first team (and hopefully last) in history to advance into knockout stages on the grounds of "fair play." Samurai Blue threatened on diagonals in the first half, exposing the wings of Belgium's narrow, three center-back system. Neither team made a sub at halftime, but Japan picked on Belgium's weakness even further, going ahead in the 48th minute on a sweet finish by Genki Hanaguchi of Hannover 96. Just a few moments later, they went ahead 2-0 on a missile by Takashi Inui.
But The Red Devils barged back, with both of their substitutes scoring and bailing out Coach Roberto Martinez. Going into second half stoppage time, it was noted that 17 goals had already been scored in these dying moments in the World Cup so far, and Belgium got the 18th to go up 3-2 after Japan had committed numbers forward for the last corner of the game. Perhaps unconfident in taking it into extra time, Japan left the field open with less than a minute to play and Belgium countered a poor corner kick in style, led by Kevin de Bruyne, making Japan pay for their efforts with a flight home.
Belgium are dangerous on set pieces and certainly have their share of gunners, some great center backs and a deep bench, but they were slow to close down on defense today, and showed some serious gaps in their play, which Brazil will be noting hawkishly as they prepare for their European opponent on Friday.
Romelu Lukaku prepares the troops for Brazil after a narrow escape today.
All in a day's work, as three out of four days of the round of 16 are in the books, leaving Russia as the only team remaining outside of the EU or South America.
Sweden play Switzerland tomorrow in a match-up of two skillful squads before England hope to break their own curse and tackle Colombia in the second match.