Mexico or Croatia to join Brazil in the last 16?

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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 avatarRYAN 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+.

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Could we see the first ever African World Cup winner in 2014?

Côte d’Ivoire are one of two African teams in the top 25 of the FIFA World Rankings

Much of the build-up to this year’s World Cup has seen the African challenge dismissed. But pride often comes before the fall: Cameroon defeated reigning champions Argentina and rocked England in 1990, Senegal were written off as no-hopers in 2002 before their remarkable run, and Ghana came within a hand’s width of the semi-finals four years ago. This group of African teams is arguably the strongest in years, and any of the continent’s five representatives could cause shocks.

 

Cameroon (401.00 to win the tournament with AllYouBet.ag)

Of all the African teams, Cameroon have been given the weakest hand. The Indomitable Lions were given the unenviable task of sitting alongside three good sides in Group A: they face Mexico first, followed by Croatia and the small matter of hosts Brazil in Brasilia’s National Stadium. Their current crop of players has not been blessed with creativity, instead relying on solid defensive midfielders like former Arsenal star Alex Song and Aston Villa outcast Jean Makoun.

And yet that may work to their advantage – great World Cup sides are often built from the back and are very difficult to beat, a mould Cameroon fit. They also have a strong group of forwards, spearheaded as ever by the legendary Samuel Eto’o, hoping to finally lead his team out of the group in his fourth and likely final World Cup appearance. Qualification seems doubtful, but they will certainly influence the result of the group.

Betting Instinct tip – Cameroon to score more than 2.5 goals in the group stages is 2.20 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Côte d’Ivoire (151.00 with Intertops.eu)

Côte d’Ivoire, on the other hand, have a more straightforward task in progressing from the group stage. After two difficult draws in 2006 and 2010, they have been set the task of finding a way through a group that contains Japan, Colombia and Greece, all eminently beatable teams. Didier Drogba is no longer the centre-point of this team, with Swansea’s Wilfried Bony likely to start up front, but Yaya Toure is now an enormous influence. Where the other remaining members of the”Golden Generation” have already begun to decline, the Manchester City midfielder is operating at the peak of his powers and is capable of winning games on his own.

Yaya’s presence may be enough to guide The Elephants into the second round for the first time, but his supporting cast is also impressive. Alongside him in midfield will be Newcastle’s Cheick Tiote, with the width provided by Roma’s Gervinho and former Leeds winger Max Gradel. They look shaky defensively, with a centre-back partnership of the ageing Didier Zokora and former Leicester defender Sol Bamba, but can also call on rising star Serge Aurier at full-back. If the Golden Generation want a Golden Opportunity to qualify for the next round, this is it.

Betting Instinct tip Côte d’Ivoire to reach the quarter-finals is 5.50 with Intertops.eu

 

Nigeria (201.00 with AllYouBet.ag)

As in three of their last four appearances at the World Cup, Nigeria have been drawn against Argentina. The Super Eagles fans must be sick of the sound of the Argentine national anthem, as they lost all three of those meetings by a solitary goal. But Nigeria enter the World Cup as strong as they have ever been, with a young, talented group of players who have already proven they can perform on the big occasion by winning the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.

The player that scored the winning goal in the final, Sunday Mba, was a shock omission from the squad, but the other leading Nigerian talents were included: Emmanuel Emenike, John Obi Mikel, Ogenyi Onazi, and of course Shola Ameobi. There was also a surprise recall for in-form Stoke striker Peter Odemwingie. Captained by experienced goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, this is a well-balanced squad, superior to Iran and capable of ousting Bosnia & Herzegovina from second place.

Betting Instinct tip – With the other African sides facing challenging groups, Nigeria to go the furthest of all the African sides could be worth a punt at 4.00 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Ghana (126.00 with Intertops.eu)

Ghana have a much tougher task, but do at least have the experience of qualifying for the second round in the last two World Cups. Much of the side remains the same from that famous run of four years ago: Kevin-Prince Boateng has once again come out of international retirement just in time for the tournament, while Asamoah Gyan no doubt has some demons to banish after his extra-time penalty miss, though has pledged not to take another penalty in his career. In addition, Michael Essien returns after missing the 2010 tournament due to injury, but he is now a faded force and not even guaranteed to start in a midfield which also includes Sulley Muntari, Kwadwo Asamoah and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu.

Perhaps the player to watch, though, is striker Majeed Waris. The 22-year-old Spartak Moscow forward has scored four times in his first nine appearances for the Black Stars, and has forced his way into a starting berth alongside Gyan. One of these came in the dramatic 6-1 play-off first leg win at home to Egypt which ultimately secured Ghana’s place at the World Cup, a display that demonstrated that when on song they are a formidable attacking force. Though they face a strong group in Germany, Portugal and old foes the USA, don’t count them out just yet.

Betting Instinct tip Majeed Waris to top-score for Ghana is 7.00 with Intertops.eu

 

Algeria (751.00 with AllYouBet.ag)

Algeria are also being given little hope, as pundits have already slotted them into the discussion for the weakest team in the tournament. But you could be forgiven for thinking that this is much the same team that slogged its way through three narrow, scrappy games in 2010. Coach Vahid Halilhodzic has overseen a transition to a new generation of talented youngsters, with an attack-minded team which includes Inter’s Saphir Taider, Napoli’s Faouzi Ghoulam, Valencia’s Sofiane Feghouli, and Sporting Club’s Islam Slimani. Added to this, Tottenham’s teenage midfielder Nabil Bentaleb has worked his way into the squad after previously playing for France’s U19 side, while Leicester winger Riyad Mahrez has also been picked after a fine season.

Captained by former Rangers defender Madjid Bougherra, the oldest player in the squad at 31, this is a young side being built for the future, and we may not see Algeria become a force in African football for another two or three years. But if they are dismissed as routinely by Belgium, Russia and South Korea as they are by observers, they are certainly capable of picking up some points in this group. As with Cameroon, progression seems unlikely, but they can certainly be influential. The spirit of 1982, when Algeria defeated West Germany, is with them; their controversial elimination from that tournament will inspire them. Like all the African teams heading to Brazil, they will not be pushovers.

Betting Instinct tip Algeria to pick up three points in their group is 4.50 with Intertops.eu

 

Sports blogger JamesJAMES BENNETT (James) is a History MPhil/PhD student, who writes about soccer, Formula 1 and the NFL in his spare time to pay for his studies. He is also a Torquay United fan. He publishes articles in his sports blog, and you can follow him on Twitter and Google+.