SAMARA, Russia (Reuters) - Brazil defender Thiago Silva said his team had effectively been playing knockout football since their second match at the World Cup, so it would be business as usual when they faced Mexico in the last 16 on Monday.
After drawing their opener against Switzerland, the five-times champions were walking a tightrope in their remaining group-stage encounters, knowing a defeat could dump them out of the tournament if other results went against them.
As it was they comfortably booked their spot in the second round with back-to-back wins, finishing as Group E winners and teeing up a knockout tie with the Central American side in Samara.
While the knockout stage brings an extra level of jeopardy and tension to the tournament, Silva expects his team mates to take it in their stride.
“Since we drew in the first match it has been a knockout, that is how we see it,” the towering center back and one of a number of Brazil’s rotating captains told reporters on Sunday.
After their opening draw and a tense 2-0 victory over Costa Rica, when they scored twice in stoppage time, Brazil seemed to hit form in their final group game, creating a barrel-load of chances against Serbia in another 2-0 win.
The overall performance went some way to justifying Brazil’s status as one of the tournament favorites, although the form of Neymar, the team’s focal point and talisman, is still provoking debate among fans and pundits.
His form in front of goal continues to be patchy, with the forward having scored once and missed a number of chances in the first three games.
His persistent attempts and failures to dribble past opponents and his frequent falls to the turf have also won him few admirers.
Brazil coach Tite, however, appears unconcerned about his striker and praised his performance against Serbia as “fantastic, technically and tactically”.
Neymar’s emotional state has also come under scrutiny after he broke down in tears on the pitch after the win over Costa Rica. Tite, however, would not be drawn on whether he had addressed these issues with the player.
“A coach praises publicly and will not say what happens in the dressing room,” he told reporters when asked if he had spoken to Neymar about his state of mind.
He did reveal, however, that defender Marcelo would not start the match in Samara, having not recovered fully from the back spasm he suffered in their final group game.
The Real Madrid left back lasted only 10 minutes of their 2-0 win over Serbia before being replaced by Atletico Madrid’s Filipe Luis.
“Yes we have confirmed the team, the team that finished the match with Filipe Luis,” Tite said before elaborating that he could not take a risk with Marcelo having been advised by fitness staff that he might not be able to last the whole game.
Editing by Clare Fallon