The group stage of the 2014 World Cup is almost over, and with plenty of tickets for the next round still up for grabs, Monday's action promises to be fast and furious.
The top spots in both Groups A and B will be decided on Matchday 12, while one of Croatia, Mexico or Brazil will be left empty-handed when Monday's slate of fixtures are over.
Let's have a look at the full schedule for Monday, as well as predictions for all four matches.
|2014 World Cup Day 12 Schedule|
|Time (BST)||Time (ET)||Home||Away|
|5 p.m.||12 p.m.||Netherlands||Chile|
|5 p.m.||12 p.m.||Australia||Spain|
|9 p.m.||4 p.m.||Cameroon||Brazil|
|9 p.m.||4 p.m.||Croatia||Mexico|
Chile And The Netherlands Will Play With The Handbrake On
With Brazil expected to easily handle already eliminated Cameroon later in the day, finishing at the top of Group B could be very important for either team. Mexico and Croatia are both strong teams in their own right, but they don't pose the same sort of challenge as the World Cup hosts do.
Don't expect both teams to put everything on the line to this match, however. Health concerns and suspensions are looming over this match, and both managers will rather enter the knockout stages at full strength than risk anything just to avoid the Brazilians.
Robin van Persie has been phenomenal for the Dutch so far, but he won't be playing against Chile. Via The Associated Press' Mike Cordier (for Yahoo Sports), he told reporters he'd rather not face Brazil immediately, while expressing confidence in his fellow attackers:
If you look ahead a bit, in theory you are better off than if you come second. I'd really like to play them [Brazil], but a little bit later. The boys for the front positions train fantastically. We have a lot of good players.
Via Cordier, Chile could opt to rest star midfielder Arturo Vidal, who has been playing with a lot of pain following a knee surgery at the end of the 2013-14 club season.
Winning Group B is one thing, but the health and form of your top players going into the knockout stages is far more important. The 2014 World Cup has already seen its fair share of upsets, and with parity between the teams at an all-time high, form will play a big part in the next round.
Australia Won't Shock The Defending Champions
An Australian upset over the already eliminated Spanish team would be the perfect conclusion to La Roja's dreadful campaign, but it's highly unlikely it'll happen.
The Socceroos deserve a ton of credit for their performances against the Netherlands and Chile, and one player in particular deserving of the plaudits is forward Tim Cahill. Via Sportscenter, he'll be suspended for the fixture against Spain:
Spanish football was on top of the world just a few weeks ago with La Liga teams winning both the UEFA champions League and Europa League trophies, but after six years of total dominance, the national team simply couldn't produce.
It's a harsh lesson for Vicente del Bosque, but one he ultimately had to learn—his team has done too little to develop along with those club teams in recent years, and this time, it cost them.
Against Australia, Del Bosque will have a chance to start players like Koke, whose fantastic club form didn't lead to a position in Spain's starting XI in Brazil. This new generation of Spanish talents is eager to prove itself on the biggest stage, and they'll have their chance against an Australian squad devoid of their biggest attacking threat.
Brazil Will Win Group A, But Questions Remain
Cameroon have been far and away the weakest team in Group A, and for the hosts, a chance to beat up on the Indomitable Lions and build some momentum is the perfect way to prepare for the knockout stages.
Like Argentina, Brazil have been far from their best during the World Cup, squandering too many chances to score and giving up too much open space to opposing attackers.
Good teams grow into tournaments, but Brazil haven't looked like a good team so far. The individual brilliance of their players has shone, but the group is yet to truly bond on the pitch. You need a strong opponent for that to happen, and Cameroon aren't a particularly good team.
At this point, building confidence ahead of a date with the Netherlands or Chile will be enough for the team, and that first match in the knockout stages will give the hosts exactly the kind of opponent they need to grow as a team.
It won't happen against Cameroon, however, and plenty of pundits will wonder whether Brazil have the mental fortitude to overcome tougher opposition in the next round.
Guillermo Ochoa Won't End Group Stages With A Clean Sheet
Ochoa's performance against Brazil was one for the ages, and arguably the best goalkeeping performance we've seen during the 2014 World Cup. Another clean sheet will see his Mexican team through to the next round, but El Tri will need to score to get past Croatia.
Pundits shouldn't take anything away from Ochoa's excellent performance against the Brazilians, but on more than one occasion, the Mexican stopper took full advantage of Brazil's inability to beat him. He was put into position to make a great save, but a class striker in top form won't give you that chance.
Mario Mandzukic showed he's such a striker against Cameroon after sitting out Croatia's opening match with a suspension, and he has the privilege of playing in front of one of the world's most creative midfields.
The Croatians are very beatable, but one thing they do well is create chances. Mandzukic will get his looks, and unlike his Brazilian colleagues, he's bound to score on at least one of them.
Ochoa had the game of his life against Brazil, and having such a game twice in a row is extremely rare. El Tri have a great team, and they should be able to see off the Croatian challenge. But it won't come easy, and they will need to find the net themselves in order to do so.
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