Day 12 of World Cup 2014 sees Groups A and B come to a close, but with so much still to play for before the knockout stage gets underway, two thrilling climaxes are expected.
If this year’s tournament has taught us anything, it’s that you just never know what the World Cup is going to serve up and also to never gets your hopes up if you’re English.
Four fixtures play out on Day 12 in Brazil, where we’re once again expecting drama of the highest order.
|Cameroon vs. Brazil||0-3|
|Croatia vs. Mexico||1-2|
|Netherlands vs. Chile||2-2|
|Australia vs. Spain||0-2|
In a group that hosts Brazil were expected to run away with, it’s still all to play for in Group A.
Brazil take on Cameroon in Brasilia, needing a victory to cement their place in the last 16, while Mexico and Croatia face off in Recife for the other remaining place in the knockout stages.
Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side promised so much heading into the tournament, but they’re still yet to get going. Even during their 3-1 victory over Croatia in the World Cup’s curtain-raiser they were unconvincing, though maybe they’re just waiting to peak at the right time.
Scolari himself remains confident that his side will prevail, though, and insists that his side are improving despite their 0-0 draw with Mexico in their second game, per Mark Ogden of The Telegraph:
I have already told you ten times that I trust my players. I work with the line-up that I want, you [press] can create your own teams, but you will not have an impact on what I think. But in my opinion—my opinion not yours—I think the team has played 10 per cent better than when we played Croatia. The team is doing better, we are improving and we have good quality. I was happy with what I saw.
Though it’s hard for Brazil to take any positives out of their first games beyond remaining unbeaten, seeing the way that young sensation Neymar has eased into the tournament will bring them confidence.
With two goals against Croatia and another strong performance against the Mexicans in tough circumstances, the 22-year-old is looking to bring his form into the clash with Cameroon.
Going a game without a goal for Brazil is somewhat of a slump for a player of Neymar’s calibre, having scored six goals in his previous four games according to SoccerWay, and Gary Lineker thinks that his new haircut might be to blame:
Rule number one: When you're in goalscoring form don't mess with your barnet @neymarjr— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 17, 2014
However, he will undoubtedly thrive against the shaky defence of Cameroon, who have shipped five goals in two matches and will be on an early flight back to Africa following Day 12’s action.
If Neymar finds form and Brazil continue to make improvements, then it could be another embarrassing defeat for Cameroon. But that’s a big “if.”
Weak opposition has let Brazil off in the group stage, and they desperately need a lift if they’re to live up to their billing as champions elect. Luckily, Cameroon are the perfect opponents for the hosts to get some confidence up.
Prediction: Cameroon 0-3 Brazil
Elsewhere, Mexico and Croatia battle it out for the remaining place in the knockout stage, with both sides looking worthy of a progression.
Mexico’s victory against Cameroon and draw against Brazil showed their passion and courage on the big stage, while Croatia have made a good account of themselves in their opening fixtures, too.
Though Croatia have the edge in terms of personnel, the way that Mexico have conducted themselves as a unit gives them a slender advantage in the game. It’ll be a close one, but Mexico look good to go through needing only a point for a place in the round of 16.
Prediction: Croatia 1-2 Mexico
Though Netherlands and Chile have already booked their place in the knockout stage, the prize of avoiding Brazil in the next round awaits the victors of Monday’s clash.
Netherlands' thumping victory over Spain gave them a wealth of confidence at the start of the group stage, before a narrow victory over Australia ultimately secured their place in the next round.
Meanwhile, Chile have arguably looked like the best side in the tournament so far, easing to victories against both Australia and Spain and conceding just a single goal in the process.
Though Chile’s defence was rarely threatened by Spain or the Australians, Netherlands have the personnel to do some damage in Sao Paulo on Day 12.
With eight goals already, Louis van Gaal’s side have demonstrated exactly what they’re bringing to the Brazilian party with some impressive attacking football. Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben is at the heart of it all.
His three goals in the tournament have been nothing short of sublime, winning points for his country and plaudits in the process.
Rio Ferdinand, who has faced Robben several times as a player, heaped praise on the attacker in his column for Mail Online and said that the Dutch squad are feeling good in Brazil:
Arjen Robben has been the outstanding player of the tournament for me so far, and not for the first time I’ve being thinking ‘If only...’ about the missed opportunity Manchester United had to sign him when he was young. The whole Dutch squad seem extraordinarily positive. The difference in [Robin van Persie], who often wasn’t happy last season, is amazing. They believe in their manager, Louis Van Gaal. If he tells them the sun is black and the grass is blue, they believe it!
Though Van Persie is out of the crunch match against Chile through suspension, Robben is very much fighting fit, and he will look to add to his already impressive World Cup tally to keep his phenomenal international goalscoring record going, per Opta Joe:
8 - Arjen Robben has scored eight goals in his last eight appearances for #NED. Groove.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 18, 2014
Though Chile have a very stubborn defensive line, Netherlands have proved with their counter-attacking style that they can breach any defence, and they should be coming away from Sao Paulo with the point that they need for Group B’s top spot.
Prediction: Netherlands 2-2 Chile
In the group’s other match on Day 12, Spain take on Australia in a dead-rubber encounter at the Arena da Baixada, Curitiba.
The Spanish have been a shadow of their former selves in the World Cup so far, but with the pressure now lifted and a relatively easy opposition facing them, they could be back to their best.
Though the Australians have been inspirational so far, despite recording two defeats, Spain’s style of play will surely play them off the park on Day 12.
Prediction: Australia 0-2 Spain