Andres Guardado cannot think of a better way for Mexico to end their last-16 hoodoo than against five-time World Cup winners Brazil.
The two nations meet in Samara on Monday as Mexico aim to finally rid themselves of the “curse of the fifth game” – an unwanted run that stretches back 24 years.
In each of the past six finals, El Tri have been dumped out in the second round, most painfully against Netherlands four years ago when they led with two minutes remaining only to lose 2-1 in stoppage time.
Brazil, by contrast, have reached at least the last eight in those six editions, advancing to three finals during that period and winning two of them.
Tite’s side are being touted as favourites for a sixth world crown in Russia, but Guardado says the lofty expectations placed on the Selecao would only make victory all the sweeter for his team.
Incondicionales, contra ya hemos metido golazos históricos.
¿Cuál es su favorito?
— Selección Nacional (@miseleccionmx) June 29, 2018
“We’re not going to have any excuse like this. If we get it, it’s because we did things really well,” the Mexico captain said.
“If we’d finished first in the group and with all respect to Switzerland, if we’d beaten Switzerland people would’ve said, ‘Oh, it’s because it’s Switzerland.’ That’s how we are [in Mexico].
“So we’re up against the perfect scenario against Brazil, the five-time champions and it’s a great scenario. We’re all really excited about this opportunity football has given us, a situation that can’t get any better, and hopefully we’re able to finally take this step.”
In his pre-match media conference, Guardado singled out Brazil talisman Neymar as someone who “likes to exaggerate fouls and throw himself on the ground a lot”, but Casemiro says his team-mate can cope with any pressure or criticism heaped upon him.
Hora de dormir e sonhar… com o México Agora é foco total nas oitavas de final da #Copa2018
Lucas Figueiredo / CBF pic.twitter.com/rsjTjX4Qgp
— CBF Futebol (@CBF_Futebol) June 30, 2018
“He’s making a difference. In the first game, everyone may have played a regular game, but he has already proved to be freer against Serbia, he made a great match,” said the Real Madrid midfielder.
“He knows how to handle it. That’s why he’s Neymar, the great player in Brazil.
“He’s been a superstar for a long time. He knows how to handle criticism. If Neymar does not play a game well, take a shot. If he plays a game well, he’s the best in the world. He’s used to it.”
Mexico, who lost 3-0 to Sweden last time out to end up second in Group F, will have to cope without centre-back Hector Moreno, who is suspended. Group E winners Brazil, meanwhile, have concerns over Marcelo after back spasms caused him to leave the field inside the opening 10 minutes against Serbia.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Brazil – Paulinho
Much of Mexico’s attention is likely to be focused on the likes of Neymar and Philippe Coutinho, but they would do well not to forget about Paulinho, whose well-timed run and prodded finish against Serbia was his eighth goal for his country since Tite took over.
Mexico – Javier Hernandez
The West Ham striker has had a relatively quiet tournament thus far, registering just one shot on target across the three group matches. However, that solitary effort resulted in a goal against South Korea. Proof, if Brazil needed it, that he remains a predatory penalty-box poacher.
KEY OPTA STATS
– Brazil and Mexico have met 40 times previously, with over half of those encounters ending in wins for the Selecao (W23 D7 L10).
– Mexico have won none of their four previous games against Brazil at the World Cup (D1 L3). In fact, El Tri have not even scored a single goal in those four matches (11 conceded).
– Brazil last failed to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup back in 1990.
– Brazil are unbeaten in their previous 14 games (W10 D4), with their last defeat dating back to June 2017 against Argentina (0-1).
– Mexico are the team with the most games played at the World Cup without ever winning the tournament (56).
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