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Mexico's Carlos Vela is eager to help his country in this World Cup

Carlos Vela’s relationship with the World Cup is complicated. Over the last eight years it’s included three starts, a tournament-ending injury, a long self-imposed exile and Sunday, after his most important game on soccer’s biggest stage, a death in the family.

A day after Vela helped key Mexico’s upset of defending champion Germany, he got news that his grandfather had passed away. But in his final hours, Vela was told, his grandfather had watched Mexico’s 1-0 win, which led to a touching message on Instagram.

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“The last victory you were able to see, grandpa,” Vela wrote in Spanish. “I hope you were proud of me.”

How could he not have been?

Positioned in the center of the midfield, Vela quarterbacked Mexico’s potent counterattack, giving Germany fits before leaving in the 58th minute for defender Edson Alvarez.

“He was one of our best players today,” Mexican coach Juan Carlos Osorio said. “Carlos was the one who made the last pass for the shots we had, for the chances in the final third. He made a very big effort.”

Osorio, who has made no secret of the fact he would prefer his players stay in Europe, couldn’t have been pleased when Vela left Spanish club Real Sociedad for the expansion Los Angeles Football Club in January. But he has played well in MLS, leading LAFC with seven goals and contributing five assists while playing every minute of the team’s first 12 games.

“When a player is doing well mentally and is happy, then it shows on the field,” Vela said in Spanish. “When someone feels pressured or isn’t happy, then things don’t tend to go the way they should. Mentally and physically, I feel very well and I’m eager to perform at my highest level.”

In 2010, as a precocious 21-year-old, Vela started Mexico’s first two games in South Africa but came off with an injury a half-hour into the second one and didn’t play again. Then two months after the tournament ended, he began a self-imposed, three-year exile from the national team, refusing call-ups for the 2012 Olympics and the 2014 World Cup.

The hiatus never has been fully explained, but it started after Vela attended a team party that got out of control. Thirteen players were fined but only Vela and Efrain Juarez were suspended from the national team.

He wouldn’t play again for Mexico until a friendly in November 2014. Now a more mature Vela isn’t taking this World Cup for granted.

“Obviously after Brazil, when I wasn’t there, and South Africa, where I wasn’t able to enjoy the World Cup as I would have liked, it makes me want to enjoy this one as much as possible and help my country achieve something important,” he said. “That’s the goal that Carlos Vela has and I hope I can achieve it.”

Given his contribution against Germany, he already has.

Neymar leaves Brazil training

Neymar limped out of Brazil's training session in Sochi on Tuesday with pain in his right ankle.

The Brazilian soccer federation said the injury was not serious, adding Neymar left as a precaution and would be back in training on Wednesday. Neymar has been sore since the team's opening draw with Switzerland last week, a game in which he was fouled 10 times.

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Ratings hit

Telemundo drew an average audience of 6.56 million viewers for Sunday’s Mexico-Germany game, making it the most-watched sporting event in the Spanish-language network’s history.

Across all platforms, including digital, Telemundo’s coverage had an average audience of 7.4 million and peaked at 8 million.

Fox Sports drew just more than 4 million TV viewers — 4.26 million across all platforms — for Mexico and nearly 4.1 million for Brazil-Switzerland later Sunday, the largest audiences for soccer on an English-language network since 2016. Both games were carried on cable outlet FS1.

Through Sunday, Fox Sports was averaging 2.24 million viewers a game, an audience the network says is 32% higher than ABC/ESPN got for the group stages of the last four World Cups combined, excluding U.S. games. The U.S. did not qualify for Russia.

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