6 Players to Watch on Day 12 of the 2014 World Cup
Day 12 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup sees the final round of clashes from Groups A and B in Brazil, with a whole host of eye-catching players on display for us to savour once again.
In the former, group leaders and hosts Brazil take on already eliminated Cameroon, while Croatia and Mexico will also battle it out for a place in the last 16 at 9 p.m. BST (4 p.m. ET).
Meanwhile, prior to those fixtures, at 5 p.m. BST (12 p.m. ET), Netherlands and Chile go head-to-head to see who will win Group B, and world champions Spain play Australia in the battle of the wooden spoon.
And so these are the six players to watch on Monday at Brazil 2014…
Alexis Sanchez (Chile)
What a scintillating start to the World Cup for Chile’s Alexis Sanchez, with the FC Barcelona forward having stood out for his country in both of their opening two Group B wins that have seen the South Americans already through to the knockout stage of the tournament.
And now on Monday afternoon in Sao Paulo, Sanchez has a chance to produce one more influential performance against the much-fancied Netherlands. If Chile win and top their section, they avoid the dreaded possibility of having to face favourites Brazil on home soil in the round of 16.
However, to overcome the group leaders, Chile will need the 25-year-old to continue in the same vein of attacking form that he displayed in their 3-1 win against Australia in their opening fixture, and then again on Wednesday when Jorge Sampaoli’s side dumped Spain out of the competition with a 2-0 victory at the Maracana.
In both of those two contests, it was Sanchez who was running the show up front for his country. He scored the crucial early goal with a clever toe-poked finish that helped to settle Chile’s nerves against the Socceroos in Cuiaba.
And while the player may not have got his name on the scoresheet against La Roja last time out, he was still the star man in Rio de Janeiro after being involved in both of his country’s goals.
It was Alexis Sanchez, who made the difference, as so often he does for Chile. By half-time he had taken a hand in two goals. In fact only one of his country’s last 10 has not involved England’s principal tormentor in a Wembley friendly seven months ago; Sanchez has scored one and assisted in eight. He was without question the man of this raucously conducted match.
And as the highly experienced Scottish journalist went on to conclude: “With the electric Sanchez around, they will trouble the best.”
Arjen Robben (Netherlands)
Netherlands forward Arjen Robben has been one of the undoubted stars of the World Cup so far after two eye-catching performances in Group B.
In the Oranje’s opening contest against Spain, Robben tore the world champions apart after scoring two goals in a stunning 5-1 victory that sent out an ominous warning to the rest of the sides in the tournament. The flying Dutchman was at it again last time out, opening the scoring following a brilliant solo run that began in his own half to help Netherlands see off a brave challenge from Australia with a 3-2 win.
All of which means that a draw against second-placed Chile in Sao Paulo on Monday night will put the Dutch atop Group B. With that, they would most likely avoid having to play hosts and five-time world champions Brazil in the round of 16.
And in the absence of suspended skipper Robin van Persie, Robben will captain his country.
The 30-year-old will not be fazed by that challenge, especially given the form he is currently in. Former Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand even went as far as telling the Daily Mail:
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...
...Robben has scored three goals in two games and RVP and De Jong were waxing lyrical about his stats, not least the fact that he’s hitting more than 30kph with the ball.
It will be the experienced playmaker’s responsibility to ensure Netherlands do indeed get the point they need at the Arena de Sao Paulo.
There has been huge pressure on the shoulders of Brazil forward Neymar right from the outset of the tournament. So much so, in fact, that even national legend Pele wondered just how the youngster would be able to cope under such an intense spotlight.
"Neymar is young," Pele told the BBC on the eve of the competition. "It is a heavy pressure for him to get all the responsibility."
However, so far, the FC Barcelona star has appeared to thrive on the responsibility of having to be the man to guide his country on home soil this summer in pursuit of what would be a sixth World Cup win for Brazil.
In Brazil’s opening Group A fixture, it was Neymar who drew his side level with a piece of brilliant individual skill after Croatia had taken a shock early lead, before the 22-year-old then tucked home a second-half penalty to further calm nerves.
And while Neymar failed to get his name on the scoresheet last time out against Mexico, he still came closest of all to breaking the deadlock after hitting the post in the first period with a header.
However, in a contest in which the Selecao only need a draw to progress to the knockout phase, expect some fireworks from the twinkle-toed attacker in Brasilia on Monday. This is a player capable of both the outrageous and unexpected.
One of the big debates raging in Brazil going into this tournament was whether coach Luiz Felipe Scolari should start with Oscar or Willian as part of his attacking midfield three.
Well, the diminutive Chelsea starlet well and truly put that question to bed with a man-of-the-match showing in the opening game of this summer’s competition, as the hosts got their bid to win a sixth World Cup off to a fine start by coming from behind to beat Croatia 3-1.
And while most of the post-match headlines were inevitably dominated by Brazilian poster boy Neymar, it was actually Oscar who most caught the eye against Croatia.
Aside from the 22-year-old’s brilliant vision, ability to keep the ball when under pressure and surprisingly tough tackling for someone so slender, Oscar also has an eye for goal. It was him who rounded off the scoring in Sao Paulo after a brilliant solo run and clever finish.
In fact, as Squawka's Omar Hamouda said of the player’s display in that opening fixture at Brazil 2014:
The midfield orchestrator ran the show. ...
... Oscar created three chances against Croatia on Thursday night and he was instrumental in instigating the Brazilians’ turnaround, completing seven take ons, more than any other player on the pitch. ...
... His astute hold-up play against Croatia was evident in the fact he had an 83% pass accuracy and while his fancy footwork let him down in the first quarter of an hour, he showcased his swash-buckling side – winning 67% of his tackles.
With Brazil going up against a poor Cameroon side in their final group-stage contest, keep an eye on Oscar to once again orchestrate build-up play and set up chances for the Selecao.
Luka Modric (Croatia)
Croatia take on Mexico in Recife on Monday knowing that they have to score to stand any chance whatsoever of progressing through to the next phase of the tournament.
However, with pint-sized playmaker Luka Modric pulling the strings from midfield, Niko Kovac’s men will be more than hopeful of getting the result they need at the Arena Pernambuco.
Modric came into this competition on the back of his best-ever campaign for Real Madrid, when the 28-year-old helped inspire Los Blancos to their long-awaited 10th European Cup.
What’s more, the little midfield schemer did it all from a new role, sitting just in front of the Madrid back four after a tactical tweak made by coach Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian made a similar change when he turned Italy playmaker Andrea Pirlo into a deep-lying holding midfielder.
However, depending on how the match pans out against the Central Americans, Modric may have to slightly alter his role. Still, the former Tottenham Hotspur star has both the game intelligence and all-round passing range to adjust easily to any situation which comes his way.
Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico)
If Mexico are indeed to make it out of Group A by getting the point they need against Croatia on Monday, then you get the impression that goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa will once again be their key man at the Arena Pernambuco.
Ochoa is part of only two back fours, along with Nigeria, not to have let in a goal during the group-phase matches that have taken place in the tournament. A third clean sheet in Recife will ensure the shot-stopper hero status back home in Central America.
In fact, Ochoa is well on his way to that after his man-of-the-match display against host nation Brazil, when the 28-year-old single-handedly managed to keep the five-time world champions at bay to earn his side what could still turn out to be a crucial point.
The keeper’s best moment came in the first half in Fortaleza, when he somehow managed to turn Neymar’s seemingly goal-bound header onto the post in a stop that some have since likened to England No. 1 Gordon Banks’ legendary save to keep out Pele’s close-range header at the Mexico World Cup of 1970.
However, there were a whole host of other impressive interventions from Ochoa—six in total—with BBC Sport’s Pat Nevin commenting of the Mexican’s performance on the night: “On several occasions Guillermo Ochoa showed lightning quick reactions - as a single individual he was definitely man of the match.”
So Croatia know they will need their shooting boots on if they wish to progress through to the last 16.
*All stats are provided by www.whoscored.com.