Ninety more minutes. That's all that separates the 32 teams at the 2014 World Cup from either a ticket to the round of 16 or a ticket back home to public scorn and ridicule.
The tournament has been absolutely brilliant so far. Doggone it, you don't want to see anybody leave. Can't everybody win?
Unfortunately, in sport just as in life, there must be a winner and a loser. Today, the herd will be trimmed by four, while another four earn their place in the next round.
You can see the lines on the four games ahead below. The odds are courtesy of OddsChecker as up to date as Monday, June 23, at 2:18 a.m. ET
|Group 12 Fixtures|
|Netherlands vs. Chile|
|12 p.m. EST; 5 p.m. BST||Netherlands (28/17)||Draw (4/1)||Chile (15/8)|
|Australia vs. Spain|
|12 p.m. EST; 5 p.m. BST||Australia (7/1)||Draw (4/1)||Spain (5/11)|
|Cameroon vs. Brazil|
|4 p.m. EST; 9 p.m. BST||Cameroon (22/1)||Draw (41/5)||Brazil (1/6)|
|Croatia vs. Mexico|
|4 p.m. EST; 9 p.m. BST||Croatia (17/10)||Draw (12/5)||Mexico (19/10)|
Here's a look at how the groups shake out before the third round of group-stage matches commence.
|2014 World Cup Group Tables|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||2||0||0||2||-2||0|
Netherlands vs. Chile
You can't understate the importance of Bruno Martins Indi to the Netherlands' defense. The Feyenoord centre-back will be out against Chile after suffering a concussion against Australia, per Dutch football journalist Elko Born:
With Martins Indi out, Louis van Gaal has to decide between starting in a 4-3-3 formation or with a three-man defense, with Terence Kongolo playing a vital role in Martins Indi's place. So either he'll play a vastly inexperienced centre-back in a World Cup match, or he'll use a formation that could be ripped apart by a high-pressing, fast-attacking Chile side.
The biggest problem with a four-man back line is that Daley Blind has to play as a more natural left-back. He excelled at wing-back against Spain, but he had the luxury of a security blanket behind him. His forward runs can be covered at Ajax with their mobile centre-backs. Blind also has that innate understanding with his teammates that allows them to know when to shift over and protect the flank.
That's not the case with the national team. When Blind goes forward, he often leaves the flank exposed. if that happens against Chile, you can bet Alexis Sanchez or Mauricio Isla will take full advantage.
You saw some of the Netherlands' defensive flaws against Australia. A team as good as Chile will up the ante even more.
Chile 2, Netherlands 1
Australia vs. Spain
Did anybody see this match being an absolute dead rubber, at least for both teams?
Spain, in particular Iker Casillas, have been really bad in this World Cup. You knew the party had to end sooner or later, but few could've foreseen the decline being this swift and decisive.
On the other side is an Australia team that, despite having lost its first two matches, has played above expectations so far. Even the Wolverine himself has taken notice:
A big problem for the Socceroos in this match, though, will the absence of Tim Cahill, who is suspended on yellow-card accumulation. He scored what may be the individual goal of the tournament so far and was the direct target who could help Australia snatch a goal from nothing against better opposition.
Without Cahill, their attack will struggle.
There's the chance that Spain are already mentally checked out. They'll sleepwalk through this match and hop on the first plane out of Curitiba. However, Pepe Reina commented that this is a chance for the reigning world champions to leave Brazil with at least a shred of dignity.
With nothing on the line, Vicente del Bosque may decide to open things up a bit and get back to the real tiki-taka possession football made famous by both Spain and Barcelona.
This one could get ugly.
Spain 3, Australia 1
Cameroon vs. Brazil
Of the four matches on tap Monday, this one is by far the most predictable.
Cameroon have been one of the worst sides at the 2014 World Cup. Rarely do you see a team's weaknesses exposed with such totality.
First, there was the squabble with the Cameroonian football association that blights every World Cup for the country. Then there was the over-reliance on an aging Samuel Eto'o, much to the detriment of the team. The Indomitable Lions finished up with Alex Song's ridiculous elbow to the back of Mario Mandzukic and the on-pitch argument between Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Benjamin Moukandjo.
That about ticks every box.
Brazil have problems of their own, namely Fred's inability to lead the line, but they're still miles ahead of Cameroon at this point.
The hosts still need to get a win in order to qualify for the round of 16, and coach Luiz Felipe Scolari won't let his players forget that. This is a great opportunity for Brazil to look like the world-beaters from the 2013 Confederations Cup.
Brazil 4, Cameroon 0
Croatia vs. Mexico
This match is extremely hard to predict.
You really can't be faulted for going either way.
Mexico did well to earn a draw with Brazil, with Guillermo Ochoa putting together one of the best single-game performances of the tournament. The 1-0 scoreline against Cameroon is somewhat deceiving.
The same could be said of Croatia's 3-1 loss to the hosts. Even the most objective of viewers would have to agree that a penalty should've been called for the foul on Fred that led to Brazil's second goal. Don't forget, either, that Croatia were without the suspended Mario Mandzukic.
When Mandzukic came back, they decimated Cameroon, albeit a job much easier after Song was sent off in the 40th minute.
El Tri can afford to play a defensive, pragmatic style. A draw and they're through to the round of 16. The more Croatia push up, the more they'll be vulnerable at the back.
This game will be won in midfield, and in that regard, Croatia get the advantage. In terms of creativity, the trio of Mateo Kovacic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic is among the best in Brazil. Put that together with the finishing prowess of Mandzukic and you get a lethal combination.
Questions could certainly be asked of Stipe Pletikosa and the Croatia defense. Plus, by playing Kovacic, Modric and Rakitic, they surrender the presence of a ball-winner in midfield who can break up the opposition's attack.
Still, Croatia get the edge, but only very slightly.
Croatia 2, Mexico 1
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