After hard-fought semifinal wins against the likes of Netherland and France, Mexico and Brazil locked horns for a shot at the ultimate glory.
The Selecao or should I say ‘the comeback kings’ completed yet another remontada plucking the World Cup trophy off the hands of Marco Ruiz’ men. After Mexico broke the deadlock in the 66th minute, two late goals made sure the host nation came out as tournament winners leaving the Mexicans pondering as to what hit them.
In this tactical analysis, we will break down each side’s tactics to look at how Guilherme Dalla Déa’s side managed to trounce El Tri at the final hurdle. Let’s delve into the analysis.
Ruiz deployed his men in a 4–4–2 system making two changes from the semifinal clash against the Dutch. Jose Ruiz and Bruce El-mesmari made way for Emilio Lara and Efrain Alvarez in defence and attack respectively.
Dalla Déa, meanwhile, named an unchanged lineup. The Brazilian stuck to his preferred 4–4–1–1 setup with Kaio Jorge leading the attacking front. Diego Rosa, Pedro Lucas, and Daniel Cabral took charge of the midfield providing a vital link between the defence and attack.
Brazil’s build-up and movement
Being the host nation with the fans as their 12th man, the onus was on Brazil to dominate the game and they didn’t disappoint. From possession stats to pass accuracy to chances created, the Selecao eclipsed the North American nation in almost every metric.
Dalla Déa’s men stuck to their tried and tested method of playing the ball out the back and they did so in two ways. The prominent one being one of the two pivots, usually, Cabral (5), dropping deep alongside the centre-backs while Lucas (19) dropped next to the other pivot providing the passing lanes in the middle third.
Moving higher up the pitch as the fullbacks stretched the opposition, the wingers, Gabriel Veron (7) and Joao Peglow (10) moved inside towards the half-spaces. This led to the wingers and the full-backs forming triangles with the likes of Rosa and Lucas on either side of the pitch maintaining healthy recycling of possession to open up the Mexican defence.
Looking at the average position of the Selecao youngsters, it is clear the heavy exchange of passes between Henri Marinho (3), Luan Patrick, and the pivots. One peculiar thing which must be noted is the strong connection between Patrick (4) and Yan Couto (2) which highlights the switch of play technique used by Brazil when Mexico added bodies on the ball side of the field.
Jorge, as we can see, is averaged at the base of the attacking third which highlights his nature to drop deep to receive passes from his teammates rather than merely acting as a target man.
Looking at the image above, the number nine drops deep offering a passing lane to Rosa who was seeing his options shut down as a consequence of Mexico’s counter-press. By dropping deep, Jorge opened up numerous possibilities (1,2,3,4) and helped his side build another attack without losing possession in their half.
Brazil dictated play from the first minute until the last and their 54 attempted attacks, 19 of them ending up in shots justify the eye test.
The Selecao created most of their chances from the right-hand side with the pair of Couto and Veron almost unplayable at times. However, the best of chances that accumulated the maximum xG arrived from the centre of the pitch.
Mexico‘s multiple approaches
El Tri were bombarded with a flurry of attacks in the opening half an hour of the game. Veron missing from a close range and Peglow hitting the crossbar were just some of the moments where the Selecao could have easily taken the lead.
As a result, the Mexican manager in the 29th minute of the game switched formations moving from 4–4–2 to a 4–1–3–2 shape. This encouraged the players and allowed more freedom to his team as was evident from their PPDA which came crashing down to 8.5 from 25 in the first 30 minutes.
Let’s analyse Mexico’s pressing patterns and see how El Tri managed to gain a foothold in the game after such a nervy start.
Ruiz’ side started the game on the back foot as they formed two defensive lines of four mainly restricted in their half. This allowed Brazil to play to their strengths as they comfortably built up from the back with no significant threat in their own defensive third.
Something must be done and it was clear it couldn’t wait until the half-time whistle. The North American nation shifted gears and started pressing the host higher up the pitch committing extra bodies forward.
We can clearly see six players deploying a high press in Brazil’s half as compared to two earlier in the game.
One of the double pivots, number 6 – Eugenio Pizzuto formed the first line of three as he shifted forward up the pitch alongside Israel Luna and Santiago Munoz.
Bryan Gonzalez who switched wings and Alvarez who dropped in midfield formed a second defensive line with left-back Rafael Martinez pushing high. This led to a 2–2–3–3 shape when Mexico was out of possession as compared to their passive 4–4–2 earlier.
Moving on to the attacking side of things, Mexico only managed 10 shots throughout the game with one of them being on target. Their basic attacking approach was to go direct and win second balls in the middle third or to bypass and exploit Brazil’s high defensive line with forwards making run-in behind.
Its quite clear that the approach didn’t pay dividends as El Tri was limited to a poor xG of 0.72 over 90 minutes.
Brazil’s intense press/counter-press
As we can infer from the above section, Brazil completely outshined their opponents with their intense high press. The host nation accumulated an excellent PPDA of 4.8 as compared to 12.9 of Mexico, almost one-third of its competitor.
The Selecao transitioned between a 4–3–3 and 4–4–1–1 pressing system depending upon the ball’s location on the pitch.
Let’s take a look at Brazil’s approach to high press/counter-press in the opposition half.
The hosts pressed in a 4–3–3 shape with attacking midfielder, usually Lucas, joining the striker and winger on the ball side forming a three-man attacking front. The other winger meanwhile slides back into the midfield covering the spaces left open behind.
The scenery changed a little when Mexico successfully bypassed the initial press and made it to the Brazilian middle and defensive third. Two of the attacking three (wingers and AM) dropped alongside the double pivot forming a mid-block.
This led to Brazil at times sitting in two defensive blocks of four each with the remaining two outfield players pressing the ball carrier and ready for any sort of a counter-attacking opportunity.
Mexico’s defensive vulnerability
Mexico’s inability to handle transitions was one of the if not THE biggest reason they didn’t come out as winners. The lack of cohesion among the defensive blocks allowing Brazilian attackers to drop between lines as well as full-backs enjoying ample time and space to cross the ball was a recipe for disaster.
Even though the hosts left it late, they made sure they punished El Tri for not learning from their mistakes committed throughout the game. Let’s take a look at some of these instances to learn more about how Mexicans shot themselves in the foot.
In the first image, Ruiz’ men are caught on the transition and Brazilian players were quick to react as they seek to exploit the spaces behind. Jorge has engaged the two centre-backs as Peglow darts in the channels leaving Lara behind.
The Manchester City right-back – Couto – alone made seven crosses and his ultimate delivery proved to be the decisive moment of the tournament which tilted the needle in Brazil’s favour — sounds a lot like poetic justice.
The 18-year-old right-back was allowed space and two touches on the ball before he delivered that peach of a delivery. Jorge is seen making the run towards the danger area taking a player with him.
This ultimately opens up space for Lazaro who has managed to give his marker the slip, talk about lazy defending.
Moving onto the images below, an absence of proactiveness wasn’t the only issue with the Mexican defensive unit. They also lacked cohesion and communication in their defensive and middle third.
Let’s analyse the first one, it’s a simple throw-in for Brazil and Mexico’s middle block decides to pursue possession. Two of the four midfielders have come out of their position leaving open spaces behind and low block neither moves out to support them nor communicate about the danger they have subjected the team to.
As a result, a simple lob from Cabral finds Peglow in between the lines who go on and take a shot. From a throw-in in the middle third to creating a dangerous opportunity, it took Brazil two passes, and such were the issues with the Mexican defence.
Moving to the second incident and 10 minutes down the line nothing has changed. The two midfielders were jogging back as Couto, who will be moving to the Premier League, overtook them, passed the ball to Veron who then passed it to Lazaro who comfortably found himself enjoying space in between the lines.
Again neither did the low block come out and meet the danger nor did the midfielders in question made any effort to stop the attack.
It would be safe to say that Brazil was the deserved winner and justice was served. They outplayed Mexico in almost every department on the pitch and created better chances over 90 minutes.
An xG of 2.90 as compared to Mexico’s 0.72 already tells the story of the game. Although El Tri took the lead and at one time looked like they would taking the trophy home, mentality monsters, as I like to call these young boys from Brazil, had other plans.