June 29, 2018 / 6:30 PM / 5 months ago

Favorites? If you say so: Brazilian midfielder Casemiro

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Brazil may be hot favorites to beat Mexico and advance to the World Cup quarter-finals but midfielder Casemiro pointed to the already departed Germans as proof that, in football, favoritism counts for nothing.

Soccer Football - World Cup - Brazil Press Conference - Brazil Training Camp, Sochi, Russia - June 29, 2018 Brazil's Casemiro during the press conference REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Brazil face Mexico in Samara on Monday but the Real Madrid midfielder said the five-time champions are taking nothing for granted, especially after seeing Germany, holders and joint favorites before the tournament began, finish bottom of their group.

“This favoritism comes from you,” he told reporters at Brazil’s training center. “The shirt doesn’t win you the game. Look at Germany. With all the players they have, all that favoritism, they were still knocked out in the first round.”

“We are relaxed about it. All our players are top class, their clubs are always favorites. So we are already accustomed to the pressure, this favoritism you all talk about. We always have respect, tranquility and humility. We have to play football to beat Mexico.”

One of the reasons Brazil are favorites is Mexico’s poor record against South American teams in the World Cup finals. In 15 different tournaments before Russia, Mexico only once beat a South American side, overcoming Ecuador 2-1 in 2002.

Another reason is Mexico’s unpredictability. The Mexicans 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 then were mystifyingly poor against Sweden, who hammered them 3-0.

Whichever Mexico turns up, they will have to get past a man who is now rated one of the best defensive midfielders in the world.

After making five substitute appearances for Brazil in 2011 and 2012, Casemiro was dropped for a while but he has since become an integral part of Tite’s side, starting all bar one of Brazil’s past 13 matches.

The 26-year old has missed out on any kind of summer rest, having played until the last game of the league season with his club.

That game, of course, was the Champions League final when he picked up another winner’s medal and he 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.”

Reporting by Andrew Downie,editing by Neil Robinson

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