Favourites? If you say so, says Brazil midfielder Casemiro
Five-time World Cup winners take on Mexico in the last 16 in Samara on Monday
With world champions Germany falling at the first hurdle in Russia Brazil have emerged as the favourites to lift what would be a sixth World Cup come July 15, but midfielder Casemiro has warned his teammates that favouritism counts for nothing.
The Real Madrid midfielder said Brazil are taking nothing for granted when they face Mexico in Samara on Monday for a place in the quarter-finals, especially after seeing Germany, holders and joint favourites before the tournament began, finish bottom of their group, suffering a 1-0 defeat to Mexico in their opening match in the process.
"This favouritism comes from you," he told reporters at Brazil's training centre in Sochi. "The shirt doesn't win you the game. Look at Germany. With all the players they have, all that favouritism, they were still knocked out in the first round."
"We are relaxed about it. All our players are top class, their clubs are always favourites. So we are already accustomed to the pressure, this favouritism you all talk about. We always have respect, tranquility and humility. We have to play football to beat Mexico."
Mexico have proven themselves one of the best counter-attacking teams in Russia, drawing comparisons with the Croatia team that finished third at the 1998 World Cup in France and who are generally regarded as one of the finest teams on the break in modern history.
Brazil are now the highest-ranked team left in the tournament according to Fifa. As such, the world's No 2 side are many people’s tip for a first world title since 2002. One of the reasons for their favourites tag in this last-16 clash is Mexico's poor record against South American teams in the World Cup finals. In 15 different tournaments before Russia, Mexico have only once beat a South American side, overcoming Ecuador 2-1 in 2002.
Another reason is Mexico's unpredictability. Juan Carlos Osorio's side provided one of the early shocks of the tournament when they beat Germany 1-0. They followed that with a 2-1 win over South Korea but were poor against Sweden, who hammered them 3-0.
But while Mexico overran a German midfield anchored by 2014 World Cup winner Sami Khedira, they face an even more formidable prospect in Casemiro, now rated one of the best defensive midfielders in the world.
The former Sao Paulo player has become an integral part of Tite's side, starting all bar one of Brazil's past 13 matches.
As well as helping his country become the second team to qualify for the World Cup after hosts Russia, the 26 year old helped his club Real Madrid seal a third successive Uefa Champions League title on May 26, beating Liverpool 3-1 in the final.
There was little time to celebrate however with Casemiro linking up with the Brazil squad at their base camp in Sochi soon after. But the Brazilian bulwark laughed off concerns he might be tired or ready for a break.
"I played in the final of the Champions League and I won," he said. "That was a dream. And it's a dream to play in the World Cup. I am the happiest man in the world."
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