Brazil vs Mexico: Paulinho, Neymar - the key for Selecaos

Mexico seeking to end "the curse of the fifth game" in Monday's meeting with Brazil.

Much of Mexico's attention is likely to be focused on Neymar (in pic) and Philippe Coutinho, but Mexico would do well not to forget about Paulinho.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Mexico captain Andres Guardado cannot think of a better way for his country to end its run of second-round misfortune than against five-time World Cup winner Brazil.

The teams meet on Monday in Samara as Mexico aims to finally rid itself 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 the Netherlands four years ago when they led with two minutes remaining only to lose 2-1 in stoppage time.

Brazil, by contrast, has reached at least the last eight in those six tournaments, advancing to three finals and winning two.

READ: Coutinho excelling out of Neymar's spotlight, says Roberto Carlos

Brazil is the favourite to win a sixth World Cup, but Guardado says the lofty expectations placed on the Selecao would only make victory all the sweeter for his team.

"We're not going to have any excuse like this," Guardado said. "If we get it, it's because we did things really well.

"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 star Neymar as someone who "likes to exaggerate fouls and throw himself on the ground a lot," but Casemiro says his teammate can cope with any pressure or criticism heaped upon him.

"He's making a difference," the Real Madrid midfielder said. "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.

"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, which lost 3-0 to Sweden last time out to end up second in Group F, will have to play without centerback Hector Moreno, who is suspended. Group E winners Brazil, meanwhile, has 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 Neymar and Philippe Coutinho, but Mexico 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 as coach.

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 threat

Key stats

This is the 41st meeting between Brazil and Mexico. Brazil holds a considerable edge with 23 wins. Mexico has won 10 matches and seven have ended in a tie.

Mexico has won none of its 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 allowed).

Brazil last failed to reach the quarterfinals of the World Cup back in 1990. 

Brazil is unbeaten in its previous 14 games (W10 D4), with its last defeat dating to June 2017 against Argentina (1-0).

Mexico is the team with the most games played at the World Cup without ever winning the tournament (56).

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