Brazil 2 – 0 Mexico
“There’s no point playing for second place.” “You’ve got to be able to beat anyone in a World Cup.” “It sends the wrong message.” “You want to foster a winning mentality.”
All of these things may well be true but, as an England fan, I’m pretty bloody happy that we won’t meet Brazil on any possible route to the final. And for those of you who think that England’s World Cup fixture list is more likely to read: Colombia, Hotel Reception, BA Cabin Crew and then customs, London Heathrow, I say, “Maybe, but you do what you can, no?" As the saying goes, “Fail to prepare, get booted out by Russia on penalties.”
Anyway, the point that I’m getting to (albeit by a VERY circuitous route) is that Brazil look to be getting stronger and stronger as the tournament progresses.
Neymar is still problematic. He is in incredible player, and proved it beyond doubt here – with his goal and assist, but as Miguel Layún retrieved the ball from him ball as he lay by the side of the pitch, the Brazilian’s reaction – like he was vying for a BAFTA in a harrowing play about a WW1 field hospital that had run out of anaesthetic, whisky or, indeed, patience with childish, cheating twats – marked him out as a horrible example of a human. Solipsistic and snide.
As for the rest, they played with an accomplished sangfroid that oozed class. They are a team growing into the tournament with assurance and confidence. In the interest of balance, it’s worth remembering that Mexico had a very good first half, and although Neymar linked up with Coutinho to apply pressure on the break, the first half ended goalless.
But, without wanting to fall headlong into a cavernous cliché, it was a game of two halves. Mexico waned and the Brazillians waxed, with a wonderful one-two between Neymar and Willian that was, astonishingly, initiated by the former.
It was a move that gave a hint of the teamwork that could see Brazil take this World Cup. Neymar might be a very naughty boy, but his team are very, very good.
Belgium 3 – 2 Japan
Serious question: Is this the best World Cup you’ve ever seen?
Without wanting to go overboard (Heaven forbid) I really think that it might be the best I’ve watched in all of my 46 years (what’s that? Oh, thank you, too kind… well, I do a bit of pilates now and then, but mainly it’s just down to a regular regime of gin and sandwiches)…
Partly it’s the giant-killing, the small teams delivering unexpected knockout blows. Partly it’s the flurry of late goals. VAR has been an exciting, if not always correctly deployed, addition, and then there are games like this. Where you just can’t take your eyes off the screen.
I’d like to get something out of the way early on… while people are licking their lips at the prospect of Brazil v Belgium, can we all just recognise how incredibly good Japan were? They may have come into this game as clear underdogs, but they fired two great goals past Courtois within the space of four minutes (Takashi Inui’s strike is another contender for “Bloody Hell!” of the tournament).
Belgium, two goals down, 20 minutes to play. What followed seemed like a blizzard of football, before Vertonghen’s looped header somehow found its way into the net. It was a cruel fluke if you were Japanese, the rub of the green if you were Belgian. The next header was far more purposeful, Fellaini evening out the scores after Hazard’s cross… and then something rather wonderful – though costly – happened. Instead of resting up and playing for penalties, Japan went all-out to win the thing. Of course, leaving themselves light at the back proved costly, Nacer Chadli scoring for Belgium with practically the last kick of the game, but it spoke volumes about the purpose, drive, commitment and spirit of a team who few fancied going into this game.
Well done Belgium, we applaud the comeback.
Japan, we salute you. Yoku yatta!