THE LAST 16 continues on Monday as pre-tournament favourites Brazil take on Mexico in Samara. Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) previews the encounter and picks out his best bets.
Brazil v Mexico | Monday 2nd July 2018, 15:00 | BBC
Brazil haven’t yet set the world alight but the Selecao have been chalked up as 8/15 (Betway) favourites to forge a path past Mexico in their Last 16 tie on Monday afternoon from Samara. Tite’s troops topped Group E with seven points, maintaining their position at the top of the outright market and extending their unbeaten streak to 14 (W10-D4-L0).
The Samba Stars may not have sparkled in Russia as yet but few could really argue the five-time winners didn’t deserve top spot. Brazil were unfortunate not to beat Switzerland first up – perhaps lacking the flair and fluidity of yesteryear, the Selecao won the Expected Goals count 2.48-0.79 and the goal they conceded came from a set-piece situation that involved a clear and obvious push.
The South Americans were made to wait before eventually deservedly swiping Costa Rica aside before controlling the majority of the match against Serbia. The partnership of Miranda and Thiago Silva has looked strong – the duo have kept a clean sheet in 10 of their last 11 unbeaten matches when they’ve both started.
Meanwhile, the Selecao have now claimed 19 victories from 24 fixtures since Tite took charge following their dreadful 2016 Copa America campaign, with 15 wins to nil. The sole reverse in that sample came in a friendly against Argentina after a long trip to Australia where numerous big-hitters were left at home.
This is a confident side that are playing their way into the competition. According to xG data, Brazil underscored in the group-stage, and while Douglas Costa will again miss out, the current crop still boast the tools to takedown a Mexican team that’s faced five times more shots on-target thus far (4 v 20).
Mexico’s obsession with ‘quinto partido’
Ask anyone involved in Mexican football – the players, the staff, the supporters, the pundits – what would represent success for El Tri at this summer’s World Cup and without hesitation, the answer is unquestionably, ‘quinto partido’ – a fifth game.
For a football-mad nation with a population over 120 million, there’s a fair argument to be made for Mexico being one of the biggest underachievers on the world stage. The Central Americans have never reached the World Cup quarter-finals outside of their own country and failed to reach the last-eight since 1986.
Only Brazil and El Tri have successfully negotiated the group-stage in each of the past seven World Cup finals but that’s where Mexico’s journey has ended in each of the last six tournaments. The CONCACAF giants have invariably been sent packing when the going gets tough.
But Juan Carlos Osorio weren’t far off falling at the first hurdle this summer. Despite starting their campaign with back-to-back triumphs, El Tri almost became the first nation in the current format not to progress having opened their account with maximum points from two matches – South Korea’s unlikely success against Germany spared their blushes.
Holes in El Tri
Based on performance data, Mexico were also a touch fortunate to escape from Group F. Admittedly, Expected Goals doesn’t register many of the Central Americans piercing counter-attacks against Germany that failed to end in attempts at goal but they were pretty atrocious defensively against Sweden.
Osorio’s outfit conceded 3.24 Expected Goals in that game as the wheels inexplicably came off. What’s more, the up-and-coming metric labelled Packing has Mexico vastly overperforming across their first three games in Russia.
Packing is essentially a system that counts the number of opponents taken out of the game by a pass (or a successful dribble); statisticians tally those figures for and against and deliver a net figure. Interestingly, 11 of the top 12 teams in net Packing reached the Last 16 and 11 of the bottom 12 didn’t.
The only nation in the bottom 12 that did reach the knockout stage was Mexico as only five sides were more defensively porous than the CONCACF powerhouse. So with Hector Moreno suspended, it’s fair to say there might be a few holes in the El Tri defence that will require plugging.
The betting angle
Mexico are bigger than 7/1 with Marathon (36/5) and should they bring their A-game – a high press and counter-attacking approach – they could cause Brazil problems. However, confidence is a fragile thing in football and El Tri have too often crumbled in these high-pressurised situations.
The underdogs have been beaten in seven of their last 12 major tournament meetings with South American sides. In contrast, Brazil have won 10 of their last 11 unbeaten matches against CONCACAF teams, keeping eight clean sheets.
The lopsided nature of the encounter makes it a tough one to find a strong angle on but it’s difficult to dismiss the 8/11 offer from Ladbrokes on Brazil winning in a game featuring Under 4.5 Goals. Nine of their past 10 victories have come alongside clean sheets and 10 of their past 14 featured fewer than three goals.
Since the start of 1998, 65% of Last 16 games at World Cups produced no more than two goals and 83% of matches at this stage fell below the 3.5 goals line. This selection keeps onside the 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 4-0, 2-1 and 3-1 correct scores.
Brazil v Mexico – Brazil to win and Under 4.5 Goals (8/11 Ladbrokes)