Mexico or Croatia to join Brazil in the last 16?Embed from Getty Images
Seven days into the World Cup and Group A is rather finely poised after two games. Mexico proved to be the battling opponents that everyone expected them to be and that has left Brazil needing a win in their final game to top the group.
That victory will come. There had been some suggestion that with Group B playing their final round of games a couple of hours before Brazil kick-off against Cameroon, the home team may be able to “choose” their opponents in the second round. The winners of the Chile versus Netherlands clash will top the group also featuring the 2010 World Cup winners, Spain. However, such a ploy from Brazil offers too much risk. Were they to lose against Samuel Eto’o’s Lions – an unlikely prospect given their lacklustre showings so far – then a draw in Group A’s other match would dump the Seleção out of the competition. That doesn’t bear thinking about.
That also gives Cameroon credit that they don’t deserve. Wednesday night’s 0-4 drubbing at the hands of Croatia means that The Indomitable Lions have now lost their last six World Cup matches in a row. You have to go back to El Salvador’s run in 1982 for the last time a team had such a poor run; and there has been little to suggest that they can turn it around for their final group game.
Before the Cameroon squad arrived in Brazil they were complaining about the bonuses they were due from their Football Association. The players just haven’t looked motivated to chase either of the games so far, and it’s unlikely to be any different against a Brazilian side with their eyes on an important victory. If Brazil don’t win to nil, it’ll be incredibly surprising. If Neymar or Fred find a way to break the deadlock in the opening 10-15 minutes, they could run up a cricket score.
Betting Instinct tip – Brazil to win by three or more goals is 1.88 with Intertops.eu
The real action on Monday evening will be in the game that decides who will join Brazil in the knock-out stages of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Mexico and Croatia will be staring across from the team they need to overcome to set-up a clash with either Chile or the Netherlands; but they will both be wary that events that have already occurred in the competition won’t be repeated.
Guillermo Ochoa won’t repeat his performance against Brazil. The 28 year-old was the star of the Mexican resistance as he repelled a string of Brazilian efforts and held on to an unlikely clean sheet. However, Ochoa is know as a hit-and-miss ‘keeper. He would be playing at a level above AC Ajaccio in Ligue 1 if he were able to produce such displays on anything close to a regular basis. Unfortunately for Mexico, that’ll mean they can’t rely on Ochoa to dig them out of a hole.
For Croatia, it means that they are unlikely to concede a penalty as soft as the one given for Brazil in the opening match of the tournament. The European side were more than competitive against the tournament hosts until Fred was controversially felled in the area and Neymar stroked them into the lead. They could have replicated Mexico’s result against Luis Felipe Scolari’s team and can feel hard done by to be the side entering the final game with a point to make up.
Croatia need to win. Their 4-0 victory over Cameroon will be proof enough for their players that the Lions aren’t going to upset Brazil. A draw – taking them to four points for the group – won’t be enough. They’ll need to be positive from off and they’ll need to score goals. Ivan Perišić has transitioned wonderfully from a bit-part player in Borussia Dortmund’s squad to a stand-out in Wolfsburg’s midfield. He’s been excellent for Croatia so far, creating a string of chances and putting an opportunity on a plate for Ivica Olic to finish.
Of course with Niko Kovač’s men forced to be positive, things will play into the hands of Mexico and the pace they possess in attack. Javier Hernandez will probably still be held in reserve with Oribe Peralta once again partnering Giovani dos Santos, although there is a temptation to unleash the Manchester United forward’s speed from the start of the game. If Mexico can catch Croatia as the European side commit bodies forward, they can pick them off and secure a spot in the last 16 for the sixth successive World Cup.
It’d be a bold man that tried to pick a winner. The strength of the Croatian side and the fine seasons that they all enjoyed probably means that Mario Mandžukić and company are just about favourites to win. It’ll be easier to just go into it expecting goals. Based on the exploits of the 2014 World Cup so far, at least two each isn’t a ridiculous thing to look for.
Betting Instinct tip – More than 3.5 goals in Mexico v Croatia is 3.75 with AllYouBet.ag
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RYAN KEANEY (ryankeaney) is a huge sports fan who spends most of his week toying around with sports data. He is the editor of www.thefootballproject.net and a co-editor for In Bed with Maradona. Follow Ryan on Twitter or Google+.