2014 World Cup Group A

Brazil slides into World Cup semifinals with 2-1 win over darlings Colombia

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The host nation soared early and locked down late, providing an exciting but nervy 2-1 victory against an in-form Colombian side.

Thiago Silva picked up a goal inside the opening 10 minutes, and David Luiz scored an absolute stunner off a second half free-kick to put Brazil through to the semifinals against Germany.

James Rodriguez stole fans hearts throughout the World Cup, but was silenced for much of the game by a Brazilian midfield doubling as a brick wall.

With Luiz Gustavo suspended on yellow card accumulation, Fernandinho and Paulinho held down the fort in the middle and destroyed plenty of Colombian build-up play.

The final minutes were nervy after Rodriguez converted a penalty, but as Colombia flooded men forward it wasn’t enough to draw level late.

The first real chance fell to the hosts, and they cashed in. Fernandinho released Neymar with a great through ball, and it earned Brazil a corner. Neymar’s ball flew in long to the back post over everyone jumping to connect, but Thiago Silva made a run to the back post, beating  converted an easy tap-in.

Silva wasn’t just a goal-scorer for his country. The captain was an iron-clad defender throughout the match, leading his team at the back with gobs of clearances, blocks, and distribution.

Colombia’s only good chance of the half came in the 11th minute when Juan Cuadrado picked up a loose ball in the box and rifled on goal, but it went just wide of the near post.

source: AP
James Rodriguez stole the hearts of fans around the world, and finished with six goals, scoring in every match.

It was all Brazil from then. Hulk picked up a few first-half chances from a tight angle, but none of them found the target. A shot of his in the 20th minute was saved by David Ospina and the rebound fell to Oscar.  The number-10 blasted on net, but Ospina dove and acrobatically grasped the attempt to end the chance.

The referee’s performance left much to be desired, with a pair of weird moments defining his first half. A group of opposing players got upset with each other, and as the referee went to break up the scuffle, Brazil took the quick kick, but the distracted ref somehow let play continue.

In the 38th minute, a Colombian free kick at the top of the box saw the ref use his temporary spray, but as James Rodriguez looked to take the kick, Neymar came charging out of the wall clearly in violation of the 10-yard rule, but the official again swallowed his whistle.

There were 25 first-half fouls, but not a single yellow card produced.

The second half saw Brazil lock down even harder defensively, but they had a few opportunities, and they grabbed one.

As the fouling continued, the referee continued to swallow not only his whistle but his yellow card as well. He finally produced one in the 64th minute to Thiago Silva for a silly challenge on Ospina as he attempted to complete a drop kick.

Rodriguez puzzlingly earned one as well – for his first foul – for a slide-tackle of Hulk on 68 minutes.  David Luiz took the free kick and produced an absolute goalazo, smashing the ball into the top corner past a diving Ospina for a 2-0 lead.

The goal actually energized the game again, after it had become more of a midfield battle than the attacking affair we saw in the first half.

Colombia poured men forward, and it earned them a penalty with 10 minutes to go. Rodriguez released substitute striker Carlos Bacca, and Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar scythed down the attacker, earning just a yellow card.  Rodriguez took the penalty, and wrong-footed Cesar for the score.

Having pulled one back, the entirety of the final 10 minutes was Colombian attack. Bacca nearly equalized on a header just two minutes after the goal, but it flashed across the face harmlessly.

Brazil has some questions going forward into their semifinal with Germany. Neymar was carried off on a stretcher in the dying minutes after taking a heavy knee into his back, and Thiago Silva is suspended after receiving the second yellow of his tournament.

LINEUPS:

Brazil – Julio Cesar, T. Silva, Luiz, Maicon, Marcelo; Fernandinho, Paulinho (Hernanes 86′), Oscar; Fred, Neymar (Henrique 88′), Hulk (Ramires 83′).

Goals: Silva 7′, Luiz 68′

Colombia – Ospina; Zuñiga, Zapata, Yepes, Armero; Sanchez, Rodriguez, Cuadrado (Quintero 80′), Guarin, Ibarbo (Ramos 46′); Gutierrez (Bacca 70′).

Goals: Rodriguez (pen) 80′

Two goals from Neymar give Brazil 4-1 win over Cameroon, first in Group A

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With his third and fourth goals of the 2014 World Cup, Brazilian star Neymar has put his team into the knockout round. Scoring in the 17th and 34th minutes, the 22-year-old helped send his team into halftime with a one-goal lead over Cameron, with second half goals from Fred and Fernandinho delivering a 4-1 win for the hosts in their nation’s capital.

Neymar opened the scoring with a right-footed finish from the middle of the Cameroon penalty area, an opener that was pulled back by a Joel Matip in the 26th minute. Just past the half-hour mark, a shot from the top of the area into the left of goal completed Neymar’s brace, with a close-range finish just after halftime giving Fred his first World Cup goal. With a toe-poke from the left of the area in the 84th minute, Fernandinho closed the scoring, helping the Seleçao hold off Mexico in Group A.

With the win, Brazil moves on to the knockout round, where they will face Chile on Saturday in Belo Horizonte. Cameroon leaves Brazil 2014 without a point, having lost seven straight matches at World Cups.

[ MORE: Mexico surge past Croatia | Dutch down Chile | Spain conquers Socceroos ]
[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ]

Early Brazil attacks down the team’s right flank provided hints the favorites would control the match, but as Cameroon came into the game, the opening moments found a surprising equilibrium.

That changed in the 17th minute when Luiz Gustavo forced a turnover at the edge of Brazil’s attacking third. Moving down the left side, the Seleçao midfielder played a ball toward the penalty spot. There, Neymar had cut across central defender Joel Matip to create room to finish inside Charles Itanjde’s left post.

Cameroon responded quickly when the second ball in from a 26th minute corner found Matip in front of goal. His one-timed finish of Nyom’s cross gave Júlio César no chance to prevent the shock equalizer.

Neymar, however, made sure Brazil’s response was just as swift. Given room to cut onto his right foot at the top of Cameroon’s penalty area, the Barcelona star pulled his shot into the left of goal, giving Brazil the 2-1 lead they’d take into halftime.

Just after intermission, a chipped cross from Neymar was cleared out of the Cameroon area, where midfielder Fernandinho was able to maintain Brazil’s possession. After the ball went wide to David Luiz, the Brazilian defender found Fred in front of goal, where the striker headed home his team’s third goal.

Six minutes from time, just as Mexico’s scoreline against Croatia was threatening to vault El Tri first in Group A, Brazil found added insurance. Running onto an Oscar pass in the left of Cameroon’s penalty area, Fernandinho finished far post to give Brazil their fourth goal, ensuring the hosts would finish first in their group.

The win guaranteed Brazil, who came into the day tied at the top of their group, would avoid the Netherlands to open the next round. Unfortunately, the alternative doesn’t provide much relief. Chile, seen by many as one of the tournament’s dark horses, await the World Cup favorites.

Lineups

Cameroon: Itanjde; Mbia, N’koulou, Nyom, Bedimo; Matip, Enoh, N’Guémo; Moukandjo (Salli 58′), Aboubakar (Webó 72′), Choupo-Moting

Goals: Matip 26′

Brazil: César; Alves, Silva, Luiz, Marcelo; Gustavo, Paulinho (Fernandinho 46′); Oscar, Neymar (Willian 71′), Hulk (Ramires 63′); Fred

Goals: Neymar 17′, 34′, Fred 49′, Fernandinho 84′

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

Goals:

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?

Game(s) on: Brazil tries to seal Group A; Mexico, Croatia eye knockout round

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The Netherlands and Chile are already through. Now it’s time to decide who they’ll face. Kicking off at 4:00 p.m. Eastern, Group A’s final two games will determine which of Brazil, Croatia, or Mexico face off against Group B’s top two in the World Cup’s knockout round.

Thanks to four points and a goal difference edge on Mexico, Brazil sit atop the group ahead of its match against already eliminated Cameroon. If the host nation takes all three points, only a lopsided win for El Tri will keep it from topping the group, and unless Mexico and Croatia play to a high-scoring draw, Brazil will have to lose by multiple goals to have a chance of going home.

Based on those scenarios, second place is the likely prize in Recife, where Mexico needs only a draw against Croatia to reach its sixth straight knockout round. Croatia, whose only loss was a controversial one to Brazil, sit in on three points, meaning a victory is a must if Niko Kovac’s team’s to advance to the knockout round.

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

Here are the lineups:

Cameroon: Itanjde; Mbia, N’koulou, Nyom, Bedimo; Matip, Enoh, N’Guémo; Moukandjo, Aboubakar, Choupo-Moting

Brazil: César; Alves, Silva, Luiz, Marcelo; Gustavo, Paulinho; Oscar, Neymar, Hulk; Fred

Expectation: Brazil uses its game against the group’s weakest link to clinch first place.

One blogger’s prediction: An easy 2-0 for the hosts.


Croatia: Pletikosa; Srna, Corluka, Lovren, Vrsaljko; Modric, Pranjic; Perisic, Rakitic, Olic, Mandzukic

Mexico: Ochoa; Aguilar, Rodríguez, Marquez, Moreno, Layún; Vazquez, Herrera, Guardado; Dos Santos, Peralta

Expectation: There’s no clear favorite. Croatia’s talent, particularly in midfield, has drawn one set of admirers, while the resiliency Mexico’s leveraged while keeping two clean sheets has cultivated another.

One blogger’s prediction: 1-1, though if there’s one prediction I wish I didn’t have to make, it’s this one.

 

Talking points: Ghosts of World Cup qualifying finally fade for Mexico

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One hundred eighty minutes into Mexico’s 2014 World Cup, and let there be no doubt: Any allusion to El Tri’s qualifying form is now an anachronistic one. The troubles the team had before Miguel Herrera took over? They’re irrelevant in the face of what we saw today in Fortaleza.

Drawing the tournament favorites on their home soil, Mexico rekindled memories of 2011, when the team’s quality was living up to its golden generation hype. Under Miguel Herrera, the team has finally moved beyond its soul-crushing qualifying cycle, discarding the shackles that paralyzed the team after winning that Gold Cup. Instead of being frozen by the prospect of failure, Mexico’s played to its talent.

Granted, it was only a 0-0 draw, and if somebody were inclined to take up the Selecao’s case, they could point to Brazil’s 6-2 edge in shots on target and argues the host nation was the better side. And they’re probably be right, but that’s not the point. The point is Mexico, a team that carried huge doubts after its three-year identity crisis, is back. They may not be on Brazil’s level, but as they’ve shown throughout the last decade, they can compete over a give 90 minutes. Though it’s one game, Mexico showed it may finally be back on Mexico’s level.

That’s exactly what El Tri did in Fortaleza. After the team’s energetic start, Brazil adjusted, but the underdogs kept competing. In the second half, that tenacity gave them a spell of control, one in which they nearly crafted a winning goal. And in the match’s final throes, once Brazil had regained its footing, the team’s restored confidence allowed it to withstand the favorites’ last push.

[MORE: What do you think this means for Brazil?]

In the process, we saw flashes of that golden generation resurface, and while the team may not be fully back to its 2011 self, again, that’s not the point. After today’s result, Mexico has discarded the hollow version of itself that nearly slept-walked out of the 2014 World Cup.

Here are some other talking points after today’s result in Fortaleza:

1. Guillermo Ochoa made a lot of money  – Go to your social media vacuum of choice and do a quick search. You’ll see people marveling at the former Ajaccio goalkeeper, whose six stops included a number of the point-blank variety.

Currently out of contract, the former Club America star is benefiting from some fortuitous timing as well as the injury to José de Jesús Corona, whose absence has allowed the former El Tri number one to resume his place in the team. On Tuesday, Ochoa made the most of his opportunity, likely drawing the attention of a club willing to see if his international form can be replicated during the upcoming European season.

[MORE: Ochoa the talk of Twitter during game]

source: AP
Mexico’s Hector Herrera leaps over Brazil’s Marcelo during the match between Brazil and Mexico. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

2. Questions and answers in midfield – José Juan Vázquez was a revelation at the base of midfield against Cameroon, but el Gallito was less convincing on Tuesday. Instead, it was Hector Herrera and Andres Guardado picking up the slack in the midfield, particularly in the second half. Though the trio had trouble getting a grip on the game during the first 35 minutes, the team’s ball retention and push from the middle improved in the second. Even Vázquez was able to get forward and threaten goal twice, barely missing his target each time.

The trio will never be confused for one of the tournament’s best, but given Mexico’s injuries in midfield, that’s unrealistic standard. Instead, Mexico’s goals should be more modest: Can the trio keep Mexico in matches, provide something going forward, and establish a level of cohesion that allows them to make adjustments?

We saw all three of those qualities at various points on Tuesday. It’s just a matter of getting those various points to last closer to 90 minutes.

3. Defensive issues, or the quality of Brazil? – Based on what we know about these teams, it’s probably a little of each, but both the quality and quantity of chances Brazil created on Tuesday were problematic. “Thank God for Guillermo Ochoa” is something you neither want to or can say after every match.

Perhaps swapping the Selecao for Croatia on Monday will provide a solution, but this isn’t the first time Mexico’s back line has looked vulnerable. El Tri survived Neymar and Oscar, but against relentless a player like Mario Mandzukic, those deficiencies could again be exposed.