Friday, July 20, 2018

Sports

World cup roundup (July 2): Neymar, Brazil into quarterfinals

Mexico fails once again to get to ‘quinto partido’

  • APTOPIX-Russia-Soccer-WCup-Brazil-Mexico

    Brazil's Neymar celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the round of 16 match between Brazil and Mexico at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Samara Arena, in Samara, Russia, Monday, July 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

    Frank Augstein

  • APTOPIX-Russia-Soccer-WCup-Brazil-Mexico-1

    Brazil's Neymar, right, prepares to kick the ball and score during the round of 16 match between Brazil and Mexico at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Samara Arena, in Samara, Russia, Monday, July 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

    Sergei Grits

  • APTOPIX-Russia-Soccer-WCup-Brazil-Mexico-2

    Mexico players react at the end of the round of 16 match between Brazil and Mexico at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Samara Arena, in Samara, Russia, Monday, July 2, 2018. Brazil won 2-0. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

    Sergei Grits

  • Russia-Soccer-WCup-Brazil-Mexico-3

    Brazil's Neymar, left, celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the round of 16 match between Brazil and Mexico at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Samara Arena, in Samara, Russia, Monday, July 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

    Frank Augstein

  • Russia-Soccer-WCup-Brazil-Mexico-4

    Brazil's Neymar gestures on the ground during the round of 16 match between Brazil and Mexico at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Samara Arena, in Samara, Russia, Monday, July 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

    Thanassis Stavrakis

  • APTOPIX-Russia-Soccer-WCup-Brazil-Mexico-5

    Brazil's Roberto Firmino, left, celebrates with Brazil's Neymar, right, after scoring his side's second goal during the round of 16 match between Brazil and Mexico at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Samara Arena, in Samara, Russia, Monday, July 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

    Andre Penner

SAMARA, Russia — Flaunting his flair and his finishing touch wasn’t enough. Neymar put his theatrics on show too.

What became clear in Brazil’s 2-0 victory over Mexico on Monday is that the wild side of the striker’s character is going nowhere at this year’s World Cup. And neither is Brazil.

“I don’t much care for criticism,” Neymar said, “not even for praise.”

With a goal and an assist, Neymar propelled Brazil into the quarterfinals of a tournament it has won five times. He also extended his platform to show the world he is as good — or better — than Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

The five-time World Cup champions will next face Belgium in the quarterfinals on Friday in Kazan. Brazil has reached that stage at every World Cup since 1994.

Mexico has now lost in the round of 16 at every tournament over the same period of time, extending its wait for the “quinto partido” — or fifth game — for at least another four years.

The last time Mexico reached the quarterfinals was when the country hosted the tournament in 1986.

Although Neymar has scored only two goals in four games in Russia, he did enter the World Cup after spending three months recovering from a broken right foot. And it was the right foot that helped to break through Mexico’s stern resistance in Samara.

After releasing Willian with a back-heel, Neymar raced into the penalty area and slid to tap his teammate’s return cross into the net.

While his scoring is so often the focus, Neymar also creates goals for his teammates. A toe-poked attempt to beat Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa in the 88th minute was diverted into the path of Roberto Firmino, who scored with a tap-in just like Neymar did. The world’s most expensive player has 11 goals and nine assists in his last 19 games for Brazil.

But before setting up the second goal it looked like Neymar’s game — or even his World Cup — could be over with 20 minutes to go. It turned out to be pure histrionics. Writhing in agony after his right ankle was stepped on by Miguel Layun, Neymar managed to get back on his feet. But not before trying to step on Layun.

Both escaped punishment, but the judgment elsewhere was less forgiving, with Neymar asked after the match if he was a diva trying to draw fouls.

“I think it’s more an attempt to undermine me than anything else,” Neymar responded.

This year’s World Cup had started so promisingly for Mexico. The team opened with a win over Germany, setting the defending champions on the path to an early exit. They caused problems for Brazil, too, initially.

But they couldn’t find a way to stop Neymar.

“He’s very agile. He’s very fast,” Brazil coach Tite said. “Is it wrong to feign, to provoke the players in the last third? It’s not a sin.”

Neymar’s dispute with Layun unfolded as the Mexico substitute tried to recover the ball. In a delayed reaction, Neymar made the most of Layun stepping on his ankle, rolling around with his hand covering his eyes.

The rapid recovery seemed miraculous.

“We wasted a lot of time because of one single player,” Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio said, without naming Neymar. “I think this is a real shame for football, especially for kids who are watching because this has to be a sport of virility, of determination, a man’s sport, like other games, and not a charade.”

BELGIUM 3, JAPAN 2: Jan Vertonghen started Belgium’s comeback with a crazy, looping header and Nacer Chaldi capped it by finishing off a 10-second, end-to-end attack in the final moments.

It added up to a victory that gave the Belgians a spot in the World Cup quarterfinals for the second straight tournament.

Trailing 2-0, Vertonghen scored with a header in the 69th minute that appeared to be a cross but somehow dropped in under the bar. Substitute Marouane Fellaini headed in another from Eden Hazard’s cross in the 74th.

Chaldi, who came on as a substitute in the 65th, decided it with virtually the last kick of the game in the fourth minute of injury time.

Belgium goalkeeper Thibault Courtois grabbed a corner kick and rolled the ball to Kevin De Bruyne, who dribbled to the top of the center circle and passed to Thomas Meunier on the right. Meunier one-timed the ball across the area and Romelu Lukaku let it roll by for Chaldi to tap in with his left foot from 7 yards.

Belgium is the first team to overturn a two-goal deficit in a World Cup knockout match since West Germany beat England in extra time at the 1970 tournament. The last team do it in regulation was when Portugal beat North Korea in the 1966 quarterfinals.

“It’s a test of character. It’s a test of the team,” Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said. “You have to see how the substitutes react, how the whole team reacts.”

Japan led through early second-half goals by Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui, but they couldn’t hold on.


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