Day 12 of the 2014 World Cup did plenty to uphold the tournament's reputation for high scoring matches and unparalleled drama. The day's four matches provided the final standings for Groups A and B, and they determined the first two matches for the round of 16.
Netherlands took on Chile in a clash to decide the winner of Group B. Chile put on pressure for the duration of the match. They faltered in the final 15 minutes, and the Netherlands scored twice to take a 2-0 victory.
As The Independent's Ian Herbert noted, the Dutch triumph was courtesy of some shrewd tactical decisions from coach Louis van Gaal:
Spain beat Australia 3-0 in the day's only game without any further impact on the World Cup. Both teams had long been eliminated from contention. Spain's commanding victory was merely a consolation prize for a disastrous tournament performance.
The match was notable for a little flair from David Villa, playing in his last match for Spain. Via Sports Illustrated's Twitter account:
After a frustrating 0-0 draw against Mexico, Brazil recaptured its attacking flair in a 4-1 victory over a hapless Cameroonian team.
Brazil was buoyed by a Neymar brace in the first half and a goal from Fred just four minutes into the second.
While the Selecao were busy embarrassing Cameroon, Mexico was putting on a show against Croatia. El Tri put up a succession of quick goals to go up 3-0 over Croatia. Thanks to the onslaught of goals, they even briefly threatened Brazil's place atop Group A .
Brazil would eventually win the battle for goal differential—Fernandinho netted a late goal for the Brazilians, and Ivan Perisic notched a late goal for Croatia.
Mexico coach Miguel Herrera and goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa appeared to be just fine with second place, as per SBNation.com:
Herrera slowmo is magnificent. https://t.co/IX0IfsmSkp— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) June 23, 2014
ESPNFC gave World Cup fans a quick look at the upcoming round of 16 matches based on the results from Day 12:
Here are the updated standings and latest odds following Day 12's action:
All World Cup odds can be found at OddsShark.com. A comprehensive list of match odds, group odds and World Cup futures are featured on the site.
Impact Players from Day 12
Arjen Robben, Netherlands
After the Netherlands failure at Euro 2012, Arjen Robben—with a reputation as a bit of a loner—realized it would take a team effort for the Oranje to start challenging for titles again.
“If you want to accomplish something together, you have to put egos aside,” said Robben, via The Guardian's Amy Lawrence. “You have to fight as a team to regain that sense of invincibility. It won’t come by itself.”
Robben has certainly done his part to restore the Dutch sense of invincibility in this World Cup, bringing his teammates into play and carving up defenses with knifing runs into the attacking third.
He was a constant source of terror for Chile, racking up four successful dribbles, drawing five fouls and getting dispossessed just once, as per WhoScored.com.
It was one of his trademark runs that set up Memphis Depay's late goal against Chile.
Former England star Gary Lineker was unequivocal in his praise for Robben's play:
The best player of the World Cup group stage is Arjen Robben. He's been utterly outstanding!— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 23, 2014
It is a testament to his play that few are honing in on his aversion to sharing the ball or his penchant for embellishing fouls. Robben is at the top of his considerable game, and the Netherlands attack has a strong pulse with him on the pitch.
Rafael Marquez, Mexico
Mexico moved on to the round of 16 with the win over Croatia. However, El Tri must feel like they did it without an ounce of luck after another match where the officiating refused them any favors.
With the score yet to budge at 0-0, the referee missed a possible foul on Javier Hernandez and an obvious handball from a Croatian defender in the box. Two possible penalties in quick succession and Mexico had nothing to show for it. Even ESPNFC couldn't quite believe the lack of a whistle:
No penalty?!?! Clearly a handball by Croatia from Guardado's shot and Herrera goes ballistic.— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 23, 2014
Center-back Rafael Marquez quieted the fears, and he drew the roar of the crowd with his thumping header to put Mexico up 1-0. Via ESPNFC:
HIGHLIGHTS: Rafa Marquez put Mexico on the board in the 72nd minute, then the floodgates opened. » http://t.co/6RgHtwNSyg— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 23, 2014
Opta Jean noted his excellent goal-scoring record at the World Cup:
3 - Rafael Marquez has scored a goal in each of the last 3 World Cups (left foot in 2006, right foot in 2010 & header in 2014). Armband #MEX— OptaJean (@OptaJean) June 23, 2014
Marquez later added an assist and put in a solid shift on defense, notching just two fouls and making five clearances, as per WhoScored.com. His leadership at the back helped Mexico keep Croatia off the scoreboard until the game was already well in hand.
The 35-year-old stalwart is the senior member of Mexico's World Cup squad. His leadership will be vital to Mexico's success in the knockout stages.
Neymar is a man on a mission.
He was all over the pitch against Cameroon, picking up the ball in dangerous areas and combining with his teammates for some scintillating displays of Brazil's potential and skill.
His two goals in the first half were both excellent, and he put himself in some rare company in the annals of Brazil's soccer history, as per ESPNFC:
WATCH: Neymar now has more goals for Brazil than Ronaldinho and Jairzinho, and as many as Rivaldo (34). He's 22 » http://t.co/tbxgT7hp7t— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 23, 2014
Neymar grew more and more confident as the game wore on, delighting the crowd with backheels, step-overs and deft movement with and without the ball.
The Brazilian maestro was subbed off late with a possible injury, as per Fox Soccer's Twitter account:
70 Neymar goes down with a hint of muscle issue; he walks off just fine but Scolari takes no chances and sends Willian on for him— FOX Soccer Trax (@FOXSoccerTrax) June 23, 2014
Neymar's brace gives him four goals for the tournament and the early lead for the Golden Boot.
Brazil hasn't been quite as dominant as many observers expected. Neymar may have to drag his team to the final in this highly competitive World Cup, as anything less than a tournament win will be viewed as a disappointment for the host nation.