10 Key Factors That Will Decide FIFA World Cup 2014 Group A
Group A has seen two rounds of action already at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, with three of the four nations still capable of progressing to the knockout stages.
Cameroon are out having lost both of their games, but Brazil—favourites to progress—Croatia and Mexico are all vying for the top two spots.
Brazil face the African side on the last match-day, at the same time as Mexico and Croatia match up, with Mexico ahead by a single point after two games.
Here are 10 factors which could decide who progresses and who goes home.
What Role for Neymar?
Neymar has operated centrally for Brazil instead of from his usual left-sided role in the attack.
This has allowed him to drive forward directly toward the penalty box when he picks up possession in midfield, dribbling at the centre-backs, but leaves him out of the game when the centre is crowded and Brazil are forced wide.
With the lack of creativity elsewhere, Brazil are hugely reliant on Neymar so far to make chances for himself and others.
Scolari has to decide whether to continue with Neymar in the No. 10 role or use his pace and attacking threat from the flank to perhaps free up Oscar or Willian to create from the centre.
Brazil's Central Midfield Dilemma
Further back, Brazil's central midfield just hasn't functioned as they need it to.
Luiz Gustavo has performed his role well, winning the ball and distributing quickly, even making the odd burst forward at times, but Paulinho has been a big let down.
There have been no runs from him to break the lines, no penetration offered by him beyond the striker and very little in the way of though passes from him either.
Scolari almost certainly needs to take him out, replacing him with Fernandinho or Hernanes.
Cameroon Playing for Pride...and Plenty Is Required
Cameroon have been the worst team at the World Cup, bar none.
Their play has been unambitious, slow and without a clear plan of attack, they haven't scored a single goal and their discipline has been atrocious.
Alex Song's pointless elbow earned him a red card, and by the end of the game against Croatia, two team-mates were fighting with each other.
They have plenty of making up to do to their fans for starters but for themselves also.
Who Will Provide the Penalty Area Threat?
So far, Brazil's striker Fred has not made an impact on the World Cup at all, other than winning a highly dubious penalty in the opening match.
He hasn't had much service to be fair—see the note about creativity in the earlier slide—but he's also not offered much movement in the box or running behind opposition defences.
Jo replaced him in the last game, with not much change, and someone has to step up and provide a direct, No. 9 threat for Brazil—that's why these forwards have been chosen.
That's the style Scolari wants from them. The only goal the host nation have scored from inside the box so far was a penalty.
Thrive Under Pressure or Wilt Under Expectation?
The big question for the Brazil team, whoever takes to the field, is of whether or not they have the mental strength to cope with the massive expectation on them.
Let's be clear—Cameroon are dire. Brazil, even not on top form, should swat them aside and take the three points. But even a point takes them through, guaranteed, though does not guarantee top spot which is what the world expects.
And, of course, it would make the round of 16 fixture potentially much harder.
Mandzu vs. Marquez
Over to Croatia against Mexico then.
Mario Mandzukic came back from his suspension to net two goals and put in an impressive all-round game against Cameroon, with the powerful front man being a perfect foil for the passing and probing from behind him.
However, he'll be up against veteran centre-back Rafa Marquez, captaining Mexico at a fourth World Cup, who has yet to see his side concede a goal at the finals.
Marquez—and the defenders either side of him—have been in great form so far, and the battle to see who comes out on top could be crucial to the outcome.
Can Ochoa Repeat His Heroics?
Mexico took a point off Brazil through a good team performance—and the heroics of goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
The stopper made at least three top-class saves to deny the likes of Neymar and Thiago Silva, preserving his clean sheet with terrific reactions and perhaps a little luck in judgement.
Ochoa put in the goalkeeping performance of the tournament so far and may have to perform similarly to keep out Mandzukic and Co.
The Midfield Battle: Pressing vs. Passing
Mexico press, work hard off the ball, flood the middle with numbers whenever possible and look to move quickly off the ball when in possession, creating triangles with their wing-backs helping to overload.
Croatia have technical, creative midfielders throughout the centre, who will hold a line well to deny space but don't always active press and make challenges, preferring to force mistakes or backward passes before passing around neatly themselves when in possession.
Which midfield trio will dominate the game? Will the Croats' passing come with penetration through a well-organised Mexico line?
Do Mexico Have Enough Creativity?
Giovani dos Santos was good in Mexico's opening game, looking lively and trying to threat neat passes through to his forward partner Oribe Peralta, linking with his midfield team-mates and trying to create chances for himself and others.
Against Brazil, his touch and passing was off somewhat, and he didn't have much of an impact on the game.
Andres Guardado was the reverse; poor against Cameroon but inventive and energetic against Brazil.
Other than those two, we're yet to really see anybody for Mexico show they can penetrate opposition defences regularly.
They're good in the buildup, extremely tough to break down tactically...but is there enough there to force the issue and create chances to score if they fall behind?
El Tri Only Need a Point
If Croatia don't take an early lead, we can probably expect Mexico to sit into their shape, press inside their own half but let Croatia have the ball in deep areas.
The CONCACAF side don't need to force the issue initially—the emphasis will be on Croatia to go after the win.
That's not to say they go hell for leather straight off, but sooner or later they'll have to commit more numbers forward, try different approaches and look to their big attackers—Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic, Mandzukic—to make something happen in the final third.
Mexico, then, can make use of their pace on the break.
A draw for Mexico guarantees them second place at worst. Croatia are effectively already in their own knockout stage and know they simply have to win the game.
It's all poised for a fantastic final day in Group A.