Talking points: Martinez's double impact, Neymar joins the party

As Brazil and Belgium set up their quarterfinal meeting, we take a look at the talking points from their respective wins over Mexico and Japan.

Published : Jul 03, 2018 02:55 IST

Fellaini (8) and Chadli (22) scored after coming on a substitutes.
Fellaini (8) and Chadli (22) scored after coming on a substitutes.

Fellaini (8) and Chadli (22) scored after coming on a substitutes.

Neymar joins the party... finally

Neymar wasn't Brazil's best player on the pitch in any of the Group E fixtures, albeit he got himself on the score sheet against Costa Rica.

He was the most fouled player in the group stage, but given the way he operates (quick feet and a knack of going past players), he has to deal with the added focus on him. What mattered more was the end-product, either by way of an assist (or even a key pass) or a goal. Neymar, though, wasn't at his best while Philippe Coutinho ran the show. 

Brazil's Neymar is held aloft by Paulinho

But with a quarterfinal spot on the line and Brazil up against a mercurial Mexican side, Neymar raised his game and lived up to the tag as Brazil's best. He scored the all-important first goal, sliding onto a ball that was flashed across goal and getting his toe to the ball. And then, with Selecao hanging on at 1-0, helped polish off Mexico's threat with an assist for Roberto Firmino.

(Mexico wasn't gentle in its treatment of Neymar, but the PSG star wasn't to be tamed today.)

Mexico disappoints after promising start

It had raised expectations, both of itself and of those watching, by beating the defending champion (Germany) in the opening fixture.

But its ouster from the tournament provided a reminder of the challenge for teams to maintain their form over a seven-match campaign.

It won its first two group matches, but only managed to squeeze through to the round of 16 because Germany was beaten by Japan in the other Group F fixture on the final matchday.

Against Brazil, Guillermo Ochoa was once again its best player, without whom we might have been seeing a cricket score at the end of 90 minutes. 

Given the kind of start it got off to and promise it showed, Mexico will be extremely disappointed to bow out at just the first knockout stage. 

Mexico has been eliminated at the round of 16 of a World Cup for the seventh time in a row.

'Miracle in Rostov'... nearly

Having sacked its manager in April, Japan was supposed to be a team in disaray. Instead, under Akira Nishino, the Blue Samurais were 16 minutes away from creating their biggest-ever achievement on Monday.

It was heartbreak for Japan

After being booed off the pitch at the Volgograd Arena for trying to preserve a 1-0 scoreline in the defeat to Poland last week, Japan showed real purpose in attack against Belgium at Rostov. Having had their two-goal lead pegged back, the Japanese players were punished for its sense of adventure until the last minute of play when Belgium caught them on the break.

For now, the "Miracle in Miami' - the U-23 side which stunned a Brazilian team which included the likes of Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Bebeto and Rivaldo at the 1996 Olympics - will continue to remain as the pinnacle moment in Japanese football.

Willian comes good

Willian's group stage performances was embodied by his half-time withdrawl in the first half against Costa Rica. Mexico's substitution of Rafael Marquez for an attacking change in Miguel Layun liberated Willian in the second half.

Brazil's Willian set up Neymar's goal against Mexico

He was relentless with his surging runs with the ball from the wings constantly threatening Mexico's backline. Brazil's opening goal was set up by the winger, who dribbled from the edge of the right box to the left before sliding the ball onto the face of the six-yard area for Neymar to poke in.

Martinez's double impact

Roberto Martinez had a stumped look on his face when Japan took a 2-0 lead against his side early in the second half. His response was to make two changes by bringing on Marouane Fellani and Nacer Chadli in the 65th minute, which resulted in three goals, including the match winner.

The introduction of Fellaini in particular created chaos inside the Japanese box with his height, who scored the equalising goal in the 74th minute. Chadli completed the job on the night when he slotted in the winner in the final minute of the game.

In the process, Belgium became the first team in history to have two subs coming on and scoring a goal each in a World Cup knockout match.

Belgium also became the first team since 1970 to come from two goals down to win a World Cup fixture.


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