The World Cup is famous for showcasing the best talent that the planet has to offer, and 2014’s instalment certainly hasn’t let us down in that department.
With the biggest stars in world football making an impact from the very first match in Brazil, World Cup 2014 has all the makings of the best tournament to date.
Day 12 sees both Groups A and B reach their respective climaxes, but there’s still so much to be decided. As we await the drama to unfold, here’s a look at three stars who could be having a big say on proceedings on Monday.
Neymar, Cameroon vs. Brazil
While we’re still waiting for hosts Brazil to really set the tournament alight, one player has been electrifying the world since Day 1.
Barcelona star Neymar had the pressure of an entire nation on his shoulders heading into the World Cup, but all that’s succeeded in doing is bringing the best of out of him.
Making his World Cup bow against Croatia, the 22-year-old found the net twice and demonstrated his credentials as a Golden Boot candidate with some thrilling attacking football.
33 - In his 50th appearance for Brazil, Neymar scored his 32nd & 33rd goals for them. Graphic. pic.twitter.com/KEIy4Z3Rp0— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 12, 2014
Though Brazil were unconvincing during their 0-0 draw against Mexico, Neymar showed glimpses of just how dangerous he can be and was denied adding to his World Cup tally by the inspired Guillermo Ochoa between the Mexican posts.
However, group minnows Cameroon are unlikely to put up such a fight on Day 12, and Neymar is looking like running riot in Brasilia.
The African nation have slumped to two defeats so far, going down 1-0 to Mexico before being thrashed 4-0 by Croatia, and it doesn’t look like getting any better for them before their early flight home.
Though he harbours endless individual talent, Neymar is also a team player, and he could be adding to his assist tally as well as his goal figures against the shaky Cameroon defence.
That’s something that manager Luiz Felipe Scolari wants too, after saying that his side cannot rely on the youngster alone to fire them into the knockout stage—per Mark Ogden of The Telegraph:
Neymar cannot win or lose on his own, he is part of the group. His potential is better than the others’ at times and they are aware of that, but he will win or lose with the group. We will keep working with Neymar, working to win, and making sure we make all efforts to do better as a team around him.
“Doing better” means a drastic improvement for many of Brazil’s line-up, but if Neymar just keeps doing what he’s been doing then Cameroon could be subject to further embarrassment in the Brazilian capital.
Arjen Robben, Netherlands vs. Chile
With the Dutch media writing off the Netherlands’ chances before a ball was even kicked, Louis van Gaal has been on a mission to prove everyone wrong, which he’s accomplished in style.
A 5-1 thrashing of Spain was followed by a gritty 3-2 victory over Australia to put the Netherlands through to the knockout stage, but there’s still work to do for the soon-to-be Manchester United boss.
A draw or better will see the Netherlands avoid the Group A winners in the last 16—likely Brazil—making Day 12’s clash a little more important than the Group B table suggests. The Dutch will turn to their big-name stars to do the damage on Monday, and there are few bigger than Arjen Robben.
The Bayern Munich star has scored three goals in the World Cup so far, putting him joint top of the tournament’s goalscoring charts, and his recent international record is something to be admired—per Opta Joe:
8 - Arjen Robben has scored eight goals in his last eight appearances for #NED. Groove.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 18, 2014
His trio of strikes have summed up the kind of player he is, showing composure and bags of pace to score a double against Spain before putting another past Australia.
With Robin van Persie suspended for the crunch Group B clash with Chile, Van Gaal will turn to Robben for goals—and he's more than capable of producing them.
As WhoScored.com revealed, the 30-year-old scored 11 Bundesliga goals for Bayern last season and turned provider for a further six.
Arguably the player of the tournament so far, Robben needs to keep his form up to orchestrate another fruitful World Cup campaign for the Dutch, starting with Day 12’s clash of the Group B titans.
Diego Costa, Australia vs. Spain
In a World Cup campaign that promised so much for Spain, it’s been a bit of a disaster—with two losses in two matches putting them out of the World Cup at the group stage for the first time since 1998.
Surely, then, things can only get better for the Spanish, starting with their dead rubber match against Australia on Day 12.
Vicente del Bosque’s side must make drastic improvements if they’re to give their fans something to cheer, though, starting from the front.
Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa was tipped by many to be a contender for the Golden Boot, but as Opta Jean revealed, it hasn’t quite played out that way:
0 - Diego Costa has failed to register a single shot on target in his 126 minutes of play at the World Cup 2014 (5 shots). Exhausted.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) June 18, 2014
The form that made him one of the hottest properties in La Liga seems to have evaded him, and he has a big point to prove in Curitiba against the Aussies.
The "overrated" tag is now being thrown around after two poor Group B performances, but Costa’s potential future employers Chelsea have nothing to fear, as it’s Spain’s style that has cost him a promising performance or two.
During their 2-0 loss to Chile, the Spanish played more long balls up to a striker than they have in many a year. It clearly didn’t suit them, and it definitely didn’t suit Costa.
The short-passing style of Spain and Atletico Madrid suits the 25-year-old down to the ground, and with Australia unlikely to pose the kind of threat that the Netherlands and Chile did, that could return on Day 12.
Costa scored 27 goals in La Liga last term, per FIFA.com, just four behind the ever-praised Cristiano Ronaldo, showing that he has what it takes to cut it at the highest level.
If Spain can play to Costa’s strengths and find a way to bring the best out of their front man then Australia may well be picking the ball out of their net a fair few times at the Arena da Baixada, and the striker’s critics will be silenced.