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FIFA World Cup 2018: Knockout Round Day Three

Brazil 2-0 Mexico

This game featured two identical attacks, both employing a wide 4-3-3 formation. Brazil’s attack runs through Neymar on the left, although he will have to do it without the help of his linkup partner on that side, Marcelo, Willian bringing the ball down the right, Casamiro cleaning up things in front of the backline, Philippe Coutino and Paulinho getting through the center forward, and cultured striker Gabriel Jesus up top. El Tri will start 39-year-old hard man Rafael Marquez to cover the back-line, sideline to sideline midfielders Andrés Guardado and Héctor Herrera moving forward in attack to support the service of flankers Hirving Lozano and Carlos Vela, and cultured striker Javier Hernández up top.

Mexico needed quick transitions to defend Brazil’s quickness, but they also needed to transition quickly into their attack. From the jump, Lozano switched sides, bringing Vela back to fill the space created by Lozano’s runs forward. Mexico pressed Brazil early and often, especially on the wings, where they didn’t let Brazil build up their attack on the flanks, and contested a lot of the Brazilian attack in the middle third. Despite being outhustled by El Tri, there was no panic in Brazil, and they calmly and patiently played their game at their tempo, and they took the better chances in the box; if Mexico was going to press high, Brazil found spaces through the center to exploit. Marquez was not doing a very good job of closing down the space around him (he was showing his age).

After the half, Brazil began to dominate possession, having figured out how to attack them through the middle, the patient buildup in the 51st minute resulting in a Neymar goal was proof of that. Brazil showed a lot of faith in the center of their defense (Miranda and Thiago Silva). Sending so many numbers forward in response, Brazil caught Mexico in transition and hit them on the counter in the 88th minute on a Roberto Firmino goal. It took a while, but Brazil eventually forced their will on the game and Mexico just couldn’t keep up.

Belgium 3-2 Japan

Belgium wanted to sustain pressure in a center-intensive 3-4-2-1 formation that played liked a 3-4-3 when they wanted to spread things out and flood the attacking third, Vincent Kompany finally gets the start at sweeper, sideline-to-sideline midfielder Kevin De Bruyne making forward forays into the attacking end with center attacker Dries Martens, Eden Hazard creating opportunities in the box, and complete target man Romelu Lukaku poaching goals up top. Japan went with a quick and rhythmic 4-2-3-1, with Makoto Hasebe covering the back four, Gaku Shibasaki linking up through the center with the attack, Takashi Inui making runs from the left into the final third, Shinji Kagawa that creator through the center, and Yuya Osaka the target man up front expected to get his back to goal and finish.

Japan pressed and won the ball early, looking to interrupt the Belgian attack in the middle third before it had a chance to build, playing with a confidence we aren’t used to seeing them have against European competition. Belgium did a good job of getting the ball quickly to Lukaku, who did a good job of holding up play for help to trail into the box. It goes without saying that Belgium were at their best offensively when Hazard had the ball on his feet. When Lukaku got the ball in the box with his back to goal, there were at least two Japanese defenders not allowing him to turn on goal. At about the 20th minute, Belgium began to find space through the center in the final third to exploit. No panic in Japan, though; they still looked to try to interrupt the Belgian attack in midfield then buildup through the center.

Coming out of the half, Belgium looked to build their offense quicker, beating Japan in midfield. It bit them in the ass though, in the 48th minute when Japan beat them on the break on a through ball by Shibasaki and a score by Genki Haraguchi. Japan continued to find space on the wings, drawing Belgium to them so they could exploit the center, as evidenced by Inui’s long goal in the 52nd minute. Belgium started using their size advantage in the air on 50/50 balls and set pieces, getting on the end of several good chances, bringing on Marouane Fellaini to press Mertens further up into attack. It worked; both goals by Belgium – in the 69th minute by Jan Vertonghen and in the 74th minute by Fellaini – were a direct result of their size advantage.

To their credit, Japan did not take their foot off the gas. Too many players forward by Japan in the 4th minute of stoppage time gave Belgium the opening they needed to finish off Japan (on a breakaway goal by sub Nacer Chadli). A great game and a game effort by Japan, they gave them all they could handle. MADD RESPECT!! Belgium were tested but showed a lot of resolve in coming back. They used their, “Get Out Of Jail Free” card.

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