Brazil's Neymar kicks the ball past Cameroon's Joel Matip to score his side's first goal during the group A World Cup soccer match between Cameroon and Brazil at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, Brazil, Monday, June 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

At halftime: Neymar brace pacing Brazil; Croatia-Mexico still deadlocked — FOLLOW LIVE

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source: AP
Mexico’s Oribe Peralta reacts after missing a chance during the first half. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

A first half brace from the hosts’ biggest star has Brazil on track to win Group A, while the two teams that hope to join the Seleçao in the knockout round remain deadlocked in Recife. Here’s how Group A’s final games look after 45 minutes:

[ MORE Soccerly: Follow Cameroon-Brazil | Croatia-Mexico ]

Croatia 0-0 Mexico

Goals: None.

Other moments:

16′ – Croatia’s had a couple of near-chances on Guillermo Ochoa, but just past the quarter-hour mark, Mexico nearly takes the lead. After a back-heel from Oribe Peralta have him an opening 24 yards out, Hector Herrera puts a left-footed shot off Stipe Pletikosa’s upper-left hand corner

19′ – Oribe Peralta gets behind defender Dejan Lovren and runs onto a ball rolled into the right of the penalty area. As he turns to put his shot on goal, Peralta’s foot gives way, and the scoring chance ends with the Mexican forward sliding toward the byline.

39′ – A break after a Mexico corner leaves Croatia with a two-on-two counter, but hesitation from Ivan Perisic allows Rafa Marquez to catch up. The veteran defender commits the foul, stopping the attack in exchange for a yellow card. He joins Ivan Rakitic in the book.

Question for the second half:

  • When does Croatia shift gears? – If this score holds, Mexico goes through. At some point, Niko Kovac will have to start pushing for a winner.

source: AP
Brazil’s Neymar puts his team up, 1-0, in the first half against Cameroon. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Cameroon 1-2 Brazil


17′ – A surprisingly even start is rendered irrelevant when Luiz Gustavo generates a turnover at the edge of the Lions’ defensive third. Moments later, a ball rolled toward the spot finds Neymar pulling away from center back Joel Matip. The right-footed, first-timed finish gives the favorites a 1-0 lead.

26′ – Cameroon nearly has their equalizer when a ball goes off Júlio César’s woodwork, creating a heartbreak that lasts only a matter of seconds. After the ensuing corner, Nyom finds Matip in front of goal, giving the 22-year-old an easy finish for his team’s first goal of the competition.

35′ – Neymar’s done it again. Cutting across the penalty area onto his right foot, Neymar rolls his shot under Nicolas N’Koulou and into the left side of goal, restoring Brazil’s lead.

Other moments:

20′ – Neymar nearly doubles Brazil’s lead, volleying a popped up just beyond the penalty area toward Charles Itanjde’s goal. The Cameroon keepers block keeps his team within one, while near-chance moments later ends as Fred’s prevented from one-timing home Brazil’s second goal.

Question for the second half:

  • Where are the tournament favorites? – Brazil responded quickly, but Cameroon’s still looked better than they have all tournament. Where’s the Seleçao team that won the Confederations Cup?

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

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I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.