After a training session last week, Bob Bradley was asked if he’d spoken with Carlos Vela while the forward was at the World Cup. Vela and Mexico had just learned they’d be facing Brazil in the Round of 16, after narrowly escaping from the group stages.
Bradley responded in the affirmative, saying he’d traded messages with LAFC’s first Designated Player. He added, “I asked the question if any team has ever beaten Germany and Brazil in the same World Cup. I haven’t researched the answer, but I don’t think so. And so for Mexico, it’s a chance to make history if that’s true.”
Mexico, of course, defeated Germany in its opening match of the World Cup 1-0. The question posed by the LAFC head coach is quintessential Bradley. A challenge posed to one of his players, an encouragement to make history.
At the 2018 World Cup, Vela has already made personal history. He was brilliant against Germany. By man marking Toni Kroos out of the match, Vela was the centerpiece of Juan Carlos Osorio’s tactical plan against the reigning World Cup champs. Then in the next match, he got his reward.
Stepping to the spot after Mexico won a penalty against South Korea, Vela buried his penalty with aplomb. The first goal in a World Cup for the Mexican international, also the first-ever by an LAFC player at the world’s biggest tournament.
In the third match of the group stage against Sweden, like his teammates Vela suffered with the physical play of the Swedes. Unable to find time and space amidst a bunker of yellow and blue, El Tri would succumb to the Swedish counterattack on multiple occasions. They needed help from South Korea to advance, setting up a date with the Brazilian behemoth.
On Monday, Vela and his Mexico teammates have not one, but two challenges standing in their way. The five-time World Cup winner Brazil has yet to lose in this tournament. While Mexico has faltered at this stage in the tournament six times in a row – the infamous “curse of the fifth game.”
If they want to press on in Russia, Mexico will need to embrace the Bradley’s challenge. History is rarely made without trying circumstances.
As for Bradley’s question regarding beating Germany and Brazil in the same tournament?
In recent World Cup history, one team has beaten both Germany and Brazil in the same World Cup. Italy completed the feat in 1982 at the World Cup in Spain, beating Brazil 3-2 and then West Germany 3-1. The Azzurri were named World Cup champions that year.
Mexico will need to do the same, but in reverse order.