It nearly went awry toward the end, but ultimately the fireworks were set off in Brasilia and around the country.
Brazil cruised to victory against Cameroon on Monday, although they needed a late goal from Fernandinho to ensure they topped Group A on goal difference. They were pushed all the way by Mexico, who brushed Croatia aside with similar ease to book their own place in the knockout rounds.
In their third game of this tournament, the Selecao were marginally more impressive than they had been in either of their previous appearances. Although once again they relied heavily on Neymar to make the initial breakthrough(s).
Cameroon—which made a strong case for being the very worst side in this tournament—had their moments, especially in the first half, even sneaking an equaliser through Joel Matip after Neymar had side-footed the hosts into the lead.
But Neymar duly put his side ahead again with a more individual effort, and from there Brazil were absolutely cruising.
There have been two schools of thought in this competition when it comes to the main contenders:
- That the true contenders will impress from the first game, or
- That it is best to start slowly, improving performances as the tournament goes on
Brazil have certainly been adhering more to the second school of thought, with the prosaic nature of their performances masked to a great extent by the fervour of their fans and the final results. But now they are in the knockout stages, set to face Chile—a side who have played well almost from the first minute. They will have to up their game.
On Monday, Fred got his first goal of the tournament, sealing the win after coming in for some real criticism over his attributes in the preceding days.
Neymar cannot win this tournament on his own (he is no Diego Maradona, not just yet at least)—team-mates like Fred will have to play better over the next four games.
Results in brief - Day 12
Australia 0-3 Spain
(Villa, Torres, Mata)
Netherlands 2-0 Chile
Cameroon 1-4 Brazil
(Matip; Neymar (2), Fred, Fernandinho)
Croatia 1-3 Mexico
(Perisic; Marquez, Guardado, Hernandez)
Netherlands and Chile progress from Group A. Brazil and Mexico progress from Group B.
Brazil vs. Chile (Saturday June 28, Belo Horizonte)
Netherlands vs. Mexico (Sunday June 29, Fortaleza)
1. Notes from Day 12
The price of defeat...It nearly all worked out unexpectedly well for Jorge Sampaoli's side, but in the end they got the last-16 match they must have expected, against Brazil in Belo Horizonte. If they had beaten the Netherlands in their final group game then Mexico might have been their "reward"—a slightly easier game on paper, if not in practice.
As it is they will face Brazil, a meeting the hosts will be less than thrilled about, but one they will nevertheless expect to win. Losing to the Dutch may have a far bigger impact on Chile's run in this tournament than initially meets the eye.
Thankful just to be here...At this point, as Mexico head for the last 16, it is worth remembering that only a last-minute USA goal against Panama in qualifying enabled El Tri to even get into a play-off for a spot in Brazil. Graham Zusi's gift keeps on giving...
Draw opens up for Dutch...Just as future prospects look dim for Chile, so they look increasingly good for the Dutch. After pre-tournament predictions that they might struggle to escape the group, Louis van Gaal might be forgiven for thinking about reaching the semi-finals already—if they beat Mexico, a meeting with Costa Rica or Ivory Coast could await. Not as tough as it could have been...
2. Quote of the Day
"The team has got back that spirit that we used to have."
- Brazil midfielder Fernandinho (per Reuters)
3. Tweet of the Day
4. Goal of the Day
Out of sentimentality as much as anything, let's go for David Villa's opener against Australia. The veteran striker was in tears after he was substituted later in the game, as it was his final appearance for La Furia Roja.
5. A good day for...
Neymar. The tournament's poster boy—especially in his home country—scored a brace for the second time in this tournament, moving him to four goals and making him an increasingly obvious candidate for the Golden Boot (five goals is usually enough for that gong).
It is easy to market a player as the face of the World Cup, but at some point he has to back up that hype with his performances. No one can say Neymar has failed to do that. Now the hard work really starts, though...
6. A bad day for...
Cameroon. Three games, three loses, one goal scored, nine goals conceded. Volker Finke's side have now lost their last seven World Cup matches—a horrendous record for a country that produces its share of good players. Once again, discipline and organisation were the issues. They go home from the World Cup without really having contributed anything.
7. Tomorrow's schedule
Costa Rica vs. England (Group D: 5 p.m. GMT/12 p.m. ET)
One team already through, one team already out—just perhaps not the teams you might have expected. England will field a more youthful lineup, but will that be enough for them to grab their first point of the tournament? A point for Costa Rica will guarantee they top the group.
Italy vs. Uruguay (Group D: 5 p.m. GMT/12 p.m. ET)
Essentially a head-to-head battle for second in the group, with both sides having beat England but lost to Costa Rica. Italy have Andrea Pirlo and a supporting cast of experienced, if currently underperforming stars. But Uruguay have Luis Suarez. As England know too well, sometimes that can be enough.
Greece vs. Ivory Coast (Group C: 9 p.m. GMT/4 p.m. ET)
The winner of this one is highly likely to secure second in the group, although Ivory Coast can manage that with just a draw. Greece were hard to break down against Japan but have shown little real attacking threat all tournament—can they summon it when they need it most?
Japan vs. Colombia (Group C: 9 p.m. GMT/4 p.m. ET)
Colombia will guarantee top spot in the group with a draw, although it remains to be seen just how much of a benefit that will be if Costa Rica do end up topping Group D (the winner of Group C will face the runner-up of Group D in the next phase, and vice versa). Japan's hopes faded dramatically when they failed to beat 10-man Greece, but a win could just send them through if results elsewhere go their way.