Brazil, Belgium target World Cup quarters after Spain bow out
SAMARA, RUSSIA: Brazil will look to keep their bid for a record sixth World Cup crown on track when they face Mexico on Monday with a quarter-final place at stake after seeing Spain join the list of contenders to be eliminated.
Monday´s other last-16 game sees a much-fancied Belgium take on a Japan side who are dreaming of reaching the quarters for the first time after scraping through their group thanks to their fair-play record.
While Neymar´s Brazil, and a Belgian outfit inspired by Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, are both expected to advance, events of the weekend have shown that nothing can be taken for granted.
Spain, the 2010 winners, were stunned on Sunday as they lost on penalties to Russia in Moscow, with Igor Akinfeev the hero for the hosts, saving two spot-kicks.
Russia won 4-3 in the shoot-out after the tie ended 1-1 at the Luzhniki Stadium, and will now play Croatia in the last eight.
Croatia also won on penalties, defeating Denmark 3-2 in the shoot-out following another 1-1 draw, with Luka Modric having a spot-kick saved late in extra time.
They look like serious contenders, while for Spain their elimination is a disaster -- they had been considered among the favourites but had their preparations ruined when coach Julen Lopetegui was sensationally sacked on the eve of the tournament.
Mexico's players take part to a training session in Samara on July 1, on the eve of their Russia 2018 World Cup round of 16 match against Brazil. Photo:AFP
They join 2014 winners Germany, Argentina and European champions Portugal in being knocked out of a competition for which neither Italy nor the Netherlands -- two of the great World Cup names -- even qualified.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, the two great individuals of the last decade, have gone home, their hopes of ever winning the World Cup probably over.
But Neymar is still dreaming of leading Brazil to glory, and his side take on Mexico in the Volga river port city of Samara (1400 GMT). Coach Tite insists his talisman is now approaching his best form again, four months after undergoing surgery on a fractured foot.
"Now, he´s returned to a very high level. He´s played a lot... I told him, and he knows, about the price he´s had to pay to get back to this level," said Tite.