With six second-half minutes gone in Brazil’s Round of 16 tie with Mexico, Willian latched on to Neymar’s backheel on the edge of the box and showed exactly why his coach Tite calls him O Foguetinho (Little Rocket).
Hugo Ayala, the El Tri defender barely had time to react as the Chelsea man took two quick touches and burst past him into the area before delivering a low cross that Neymar stabbed into the net.
Brazil’s rocket man chose an appropriate stage on which to excel. The Brazil’s No19, one of his side’s outstanding performers in the 2-0 victory over Mexico, in conversation with FIFA said: “The coaching staff have been calling me by that nickname and to be honest I’m delighted with it. It sums up the way I play.”
With his devastating burst of pace and pinpoint cross, Willian now has something to show for his efforts at Russia 2018. One of the stars in the Premier League, the Brazilian had yet to make a huge impact at this World Cup, though Tite and his coaching staff have been delighted with his contributions on a tactical level, not least because he has been getting through a considerable amount of work.
Willian also had a switch of position to contend with in the second half, as Tite moved him to a more central position, in behind the Mexican midfield. He said: “I knew it was going to be a natural process. I’ve been improving with every game. If you start taking it easy, then you end up losing your place.”
He sighed: “It was hot, wasn’t it? It’s important for us to be able to play without the ball. We did that really well as a team, and we defended well. When we do that it makes everything easier, because we know how much quality we’ve got up front. We have players who can settle games in an instant.”
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