FIFA World Cup Round of 16 Preview: Brazil-Mexico and Belgium-Japan

 Source: AFP

Source: AFP

Brazil v Mexico

Mexico seeks to not only defeat Brazil for the first time in history but also score their first goal against the Seleção. Will Brazil continue on to capture its record sixth FIFA World Cup trophy? Let’s review what each team has done in the group matches, and its chances of moving forward.

In its first match, Mexico beat defending champion Germany 1-0, giving them confidence that they can the quarterfinals for the first time since 1986. A brutal 3-0 loss to Sweden has now changed their trajectory, and instead of facing Switzerland in the round of 16, they will now face Brazil.

Juan Carlos Osorio shut down his doubters as Mexico conquered the Germans and then played great in the South Korea win. He's stuck with almost entirely the same players and substitutes, which was a fear among some fans who were not pleased with his rotations. Mexico struggled to score in matches prior to the tournament, but they were able to capitalize on enough chances in their first two matches. In their loss to Sweden, they managed to possess the ball 67 percent of the time, and outshot Sweden, who finished atop the group. Luck and crucial mistakes can change the course of not just one game but the entire tournament. Mexico learned that the hard way, and will now have to beat Brazil to get to the Round of 16.

Brazil arguably had its best showing in its final group stage game against Nigeria. The Seleção hasn't had their star, Neymar, at 100 percent, but Philippe Coutinho has been brilliant, demonstrating great control of the ball and the game as his passing and scoring ability has been on display. Brazil will play openly against Mexico, leaving them open to Mexico’s counters, so they'll need to rely on their midfield to outplay El Tri. Mexico has been lacking a solid defensive midfielder; instead Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera have had to both share duties there. That vulnerability will leave Coutinho free to roam behind as a 10, and Neymar to cut in the middle of the field if Mexico gets caught off guard.

Brazil has a few injured players to keep an eye on like Neymar, Douglas Costa, and now Marcelo. Brazil should be favored, but several of the favored teams in this tournament are either already eliminated or have not had the start they envisioned.

Prediction

Brazil 3 - 1 Mexico

 Source: AFP

Source: AFP

Belgium v Japan

Belgium is the dark horse many predicted to win the tournament. They swept the group stage, including five goals against Tunisia. Romelu Lukaku is tied for second with four goals in the tournament, Eden Hazard has been great as a leader and also scored a fantastic goal in their match against Tunisia, and Kevin De Bruyne has continued the success he's had with Manchester City.

Lost in it all has been the play of Dries Mertens, Axel Witsel, and others who have made the team appear like a machine this tournament. Belgium played mainly reserves in their clash with England as they valued rest, injury, and fair play over who they would face. Ultimately, Belgium defeated England with a great goal from Adnan Januzaj, who has been relegated to a bench role, scored the lone goal against England, a great shot to put them atop the group and set the stage for a meeting with Japan, who they're heavily favored against. Expect Hazard and De Bruyne to generate much of the attention and create most of the opportunities, leaving a player like Mertens to take advantage of the opportunities his opponents give him.

Japan was lucky to advance to the knockout phase. A tie-breaker between them and Senegal ultimately came down to fair play rules. Nonetheless, they are here and have the chance to spoil Belgium’s pursuit of their first ever title.

This Japan team does have talent, led by several players with European club experience like Makoto Hasebe, Shiniji Kagawa, Yuya Osako, and Keisuke Honda. They'll be heavily attacked by Belgium’s attacking front, and head coach Akira Nishino will be responsible for creating a plan to stifle Belgium’s combinations. They'll have to beware of Lukaku’s ability to put himself in positions to score, De Bruyne’s long passes, and how best to counter attack their opponents.

Prediction

Belgium 3 - 0 Japan