The world’s most expensive player put Brazil in the lead after his back-heel released Willian, who then sent the ball into the penalty area. Neymar slid in to tap in the opener in the 51st minute.
Neymar then showed his unselfish side, crossing for Robert Firmino to score in the 88th minute. Neymar has 11 goals and nine assists in his last 19 games for Brazil.
It looked like Neymar’s game – or even his World Cup – could be over with 20 minutes to go. It turned out to be pure histrionics. Writhing in agony after his right ankle was stepped on by Miguel Layun, Neymar managed to get back on his feet. But not before trying a stamp on Layun himself. Both escaped punishment.
The five-time World Cup champions will next face either Japan or Belgium in their seventh straight quarterfinal match, the stage they have reached at every World Cup since 1994.
Not so for the Mexicans, who have lost in the round of 16 seven straight times.
The last time Mexico reached the quarterfinals was when the country hosted the tournament in 1986.
This year’s World Cup had started so promisingly for Mexico. The team opened with a win over Germany, setting the defending champions on the path to an early exit. They caused problems for Brazil, too, initially.
But they couldn’t find a way to stop Neymar.
“He’s very agile. He’s very fast,” Brazil coach Tite said. “Is it wrong to feign, to provoke the players in the last third? It’s not a sin.”
Neymar’s dispute with Layun unfolded as the Mexico substitute tried to recover the ball. In a delayed reaction, Neymar made the most of Layun stepping on his ankle, rolling around with his hand covering his eyes.
The rapid recovery seemed miraculous.
“We wasted a lot of time because of one single player,” Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio said, without naming Neymar. “I think this is a real shame for football, especially for kids who are watching because this has to be a sport of virility, of determination, a man’s sport, like other games, and not a charade.”
During the win over Costa Rica in the group stage, Neymar tried to win a penalty by flopping to the ground in the area. A video review reversed the decision to award a penalty kick and Neymar’s frustrations a few minutes later led to a yellow card.
Tite also played a big role in the victory over Mexico, deciding to replace Philippe Coutinho with Firmino. Fresh among tiring legs, Firmino was able to evade the defense to get in the right place to score the second goal.
Neymar, though, still led the celebrations, charging toward the corner flag. Tite came to join him.
With Germany, Argentina and Spain among the contenders already eliminated, Brazil’s hopes of a sixth World Cup title have received an extra lift.