Stipe Pletikosa

Late surge pushes Mexico past Croatia, into the knockout round

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Late goals from Rafa Márquez, Andrés Guardado, and Javier Hernández have shattered Croatia’s World Cup dreams and sent Mexico into a sixth straight knockout round. With goals in the 72nd and 75th minutes, Márquez and Guardado blew open a previously scoreless match, while late insurance from ‘Chicharito’ Hernández helped clinch second place in Group A with a 3-1 win in Recife.

An hour of even play slowly started to sway Mexico’s way with chances in the 64th and 69th minutes. Eighteen minutes from time, Márquez finally put his team on the scoreboard, heading home a Héctor Herrera corner to make it 1-0. Three minutes later, Guardado’s blast from the left of the Croatian area doubled the lead, while Hernández finished a 82nd minute corner to provide further insurance. After Ivan Persic found 87th minute consolation, Mexico had their two-goal win.

Hoping to reach the quarterfinals for the first time in 28 years, Mexico moves on to the final 16, facing the Netherlands on Sunday in Fortaleza. Croatia, with one win in three matches, end their 2014 World Cup third in Group A.

[ MORE: Neymar lifts Brazil | Dutch down Chile | Spain conquers Socceroos ]
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Even play over the first 45 minutes saw Mexico nearly take the lead twice in the first 20 minutes. Off a long-range shot in the 16th minute, Herrera nailed the upper-left hand corner of Stipe Pletikosa’s goal, while a ball played behind Croatia’s defense three minutes later left Oribe Peralta sprawled in the penalty area after the Mexican forward slipped while turning onto a close-range shot.

Come the hour mark, Mexico began to upset the game’s balance. In the 64th minute, a Guardado shot from the left of the area drew handball appeals as it went off Darijo Srna’s arms and out for a corner. Five minutes later, Pletikosa kicked out at a Herrera cross to prevent a ball from bouncing across his six-yard box. Come the 70th minute, Mexico had firmly established itself on the front foot.

In the 72nd minute, that advantage finally paid off. Off a Herrera corner from the left, Márquez was found at the edge of the six-yard box. Heading down and into goal, the veteran defender celebrated his fourth finals as captain with a breakthrough score, giving Mexico a 1-0 lead.

Three minutes later, Croatia’s back was broken. Shooting from nearly the spot where Srna denied him 11 minutes before, Guardardo finished high into the left of Pletikosa’s net, providing what proved the game-winning goal.

In the 82nd minute, Hernández snuck in at the far post to put home a corner flicked on by Márquez – a goal that was pulled back minutes later by Perisic’s finish into Guillermo Ochoa’s lower-right hand corner. When Ante Rebic was red carded in the 89th minute, Croatia’s hopes of a comeback were done.  Mexico would advance with their two-goal victory.

It was the most impressive performance yet from a Mexican side that continues to overshadow its qualifying mishaps. When the team take sthe field on Sunday in Fortaleza, they’ll do so having only conceded one meaningless goal through three group stage matches.

Whether that defense will be able to hold off the Dutch remains to be seen, but after strong performances against Brazil and Croatia, there’s reason to believe Mexico can do damage in the knockout round.

Lineups

Croatia: Pletikosa; Srna, Corluka, Lovren, Vrsaljko (Kovacic 58′); Modric, Pranjic (Jelavic 74′); Perisic, Rakitic, Olic (Rebic 69′), Mandzukic

Goals: Perisic 87′

Mexico: Ochoa; Aguilar, Rodríguez, Marquez, Moreno, Layún; Vazquez, Herrera, Guardado (Fabián 84′); Dos Santos (Hernández 62′), Peralta (Peña 79′)

Goals: Márquez 72′, Guardado 75′, Hernández 82′

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?

BPL update: How the Premier League’s stars performed on day one

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Each evening, PST will update you on how the Barclays Premier League’s stars are performing at the 2014 World Cup. Here are the returns after the day one in Brazil.

Júlio César, G, Brazil/QPR – Came up big in the second half as Croatia was pressing for an equalizer. Made three saves on three shots.

Nikica Jelavic, F, Croatia/Hull City – With Croatia struggling to keep the ball during the first half, Jelavic was limited to 18 touches over his 78 minutes. Two of them resulted in shots.

Dejan Lovren, D, Croatia/Southampton – The Saints center back was tested when Brazil probed Croatia’s left in the first half. In the second, Lovren was at the center of controversy when a harsh penalty call left him yellow carded and watching as Neymar scored the winner from the spot.

Paulinho, M, Brazil/Tottenham – Paulinho partnered Luiz Gustavo in central midfield in the Selecao’s 4-2-3-1 formation and finished the match with two shots, drawing a save from Stipe Pletikosa in the 21st minute.

Oscar, M, Brazil/Chelsea – One of the day’s two stars, Oscar assisted on Neymar’s opener before scoring Brazil’s late insurance.

Ramires, M, Brazil/Chelsea – Came on in the 88th minute of Neymar and recorded an assist on Oscar’s game-sealing goal – his only recorded touch of the match.

Nerves, Nishimura, Pletikosa: Talking points after Brazil’s victory over Croatia

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Squint your eyes until the game is a blur, and Thursday’s result looks like a dream start for Brazil. Two goals from their best player? A 3-1 win over Croatia? Luiz Felipe Scolari would have taken that, had you offered him that result before kickoff. His team’s off to a 100 percent start.

Open those eyes and look at the details, and the result doesn’t look so convincing. The first 20 minutes where sluggish. The last 20 minutes tested Júlio César. Brazil was the better team over the full 90, but the two-goal margin flatters the Selecao.

In game one of (what Brazil hopes is) seven, it’s nothing to worry about. Every team has to start somewhere, and at this point of the tournament — for a core that’s never competed together on this stage — three points are enough.

Here are four other thoughts after the Selecao’s win in Sao Paulo:

1. Nerves slowed down Brazil – For 20 minutes in Sao Paulo, Brazil were bystanders, if not worse. After all, they scored Croatia’s goal.

Playing without passion or imagination, the Selecao seemed handcuffed by the occasion. If I didn’t know better, I’d say they were a team that’s never played together a World Cup that was trying to manage the pressures of being favorites on home soil.

Once they went behind, Brazil woke up, but that first 20 minutes is the kind of spell a team has to get out of its system early. In game one, you can overcome it. In game five, six, or seven, it will send you home.

[ MORE: Nerves, Nishimura, Pletikosa: Talking points after Brazil’s victory over Croatia ]

2. Yuishi Nishimura owes Croatia an apology … – The penalty call was ridiculous. If Lovren’s left hand hadn’t been near Fred’s shoulder, it would have been unfathomable, not that Nishimura can use that excuse.

Any experienced referee (and especially one working a World Cup) should be able to distinguish foul from flop on such a routine play. If not, they shouldn’t be at the tournament. Hopefully Nishimura’s seen his last action of the World Cup.

(Also, if you’re inclined to say Brazil’s final goal makes the call irrelevant, that’s just not the case. The way Luka Modric was pinging passes around in the second half, Croatia could have very well played out the final 20 minutes and earned a draw. Goals change games, and Nishimura gifted Brazil their winner. Without it, Oscar doesn’t get the same chance he saw in the 91st.)

[ MORE: Dive, poor officiating get 2014 World Cup off to a bad start ]

3. … and Stipe Pletikosa was the Nishimura of goalkeepers – You have to move those feet, man. On Neymar’s first and Oscar’s insurance, you can’t get get beat on those type of balls. A goalkeeper at this level has to be better than that.

Neither shot was hit well. Both were struck from distance, and each gave the Croatian keeper a chance to stop them. As much as Nishimura changed the match, Pletikosa had a chance to save it. And he didn’t.

[ MORE: Soccerly cover the World Cup ]

4. Despite it all, Brazil got three points – This wasn’t Confederations Cup Brazil, but it was also game one, and for as much as they failed to live up to the hype, the Selecao kept themselves in position to take advantage of what the match presented.

That’s a sign of a good team. Now the question is whether this team can grow into a great one.

Two Neymar goals, moment of controversy see Brazil start with 3-1 win over Croatia

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Two goals from Brazil’s biggest star got the World Cup off to a successful start for the hosts, but controversy overshadowed Neymar’s brace as Brazil 2014 kicked off in Sao Paolo. After a 71st minute penalty drawn by Brazilian striker Fred left Croatia pleading its case to referee Yuishi Nishimura, the tournament favorites had their first lead, with stoppage time insurance alloying the favorites to claim a 3-1 result.

The underdogs were up after 11 minutes when a ball rolled into the penalty area by Ivica Olic was turned into Brazil’s net by Selecao left back Marcelo – the team’s first own goal in World Cup history. Eighteen minutes later, Neymar converted his first of the day, rolling a ball from the top of the arc inside Stipe Pletikosa’s left post.

After Brazil gained momentum before halftime, Croatia assumed more control of the game in the second. That control was rebuked when Nishimura pointed to the spot in the 69th minute, issuing Croatian defender Dejan Lovren a yellow card after a disputed foul on Fred. Neymar’s finish from the spot delivered full points for the hosts.

One minute into stoppage time, a counterattack against the pursuing Croatians produced a chance from Oscar from just beyond the arc. Poking the ball inside Pletikosa’s right post, the Chelsea midfielder gave Brazil its insurance, producing a flattering two-goal result.

Play in Group A continues tomorrow when Mexico faces Cameroon in Natal. Brazil returns to the field Tuesday against Mexico in Fortaleza, while Croatia will face Cameroon on Wednesday in Manaus.

[ MORE: Nerves, Nishimura, Pletikosa: Talking points after Brazil’s victory over Croatia ]
[ MORE: Dive, poor officiating get 2014 World Cup off to a bad start ]

A slow start from Brazil gave Croatia two chances to strike first, the second of which put Niko Kovac’s team in front. In the seventh minute, a cross from the left by Ivan Perisic found Olic at the far post, but the Wolfsburg attacker’s snap header went just side of Julio César’s upright. Four minutes later, however, play built down Croatia’s left allowed Olic to roll a ball toward the edge of the six. A touch from Nikica Jelavic in the middle of the box caught Marcelo off guard, leading to an own goal.

source: Getty Images
Croatia Dejan Lovren (left) is called for a foul on Brazil’s Fred (right). Neymar converted the ensuing penalty kick to give Brazil a 2-1 lead. (Photo: Getty Images)

By the middle of the half, Brazil had shaken off their nerves, with chances from Paulinho and Oscar just after the 20-minute mark proving the favorites’ first threats on Pletikosa’s goal. In the 29th minute, a more benign chance finally produced the Selecao’s equalizer, with a scuffed shot by Neymar from 24 yards out nestling inside Pletikosa’s lower left hand corner.

Brazil built on that mid-half momentum but were unable to take the lead before half time. When the teams returned to the field, a more settled Croatia saw kept of the ball, with the team content to play around the edges of the Brazilian defense. The edge in possession that saw Brazil hold over 70 percent of the ball in the first half started to even out.

As the underdogs sent in reinforcements and Luiz Felipe Scolari looked for solutions, Croatia continued to bleed time off the clock, dominating the ball amid almost no pressure from the hosts’ midfield. Playing through Luka Modric in the middle, the underdogs spent most of the half’s first 20 minutes probing down the flanks before pulling the ball back toward the center circle. All the danger the favorites posed in the moments before halftime was gone.

In the 69th minute, Nishimura bailed the hosts out. On a ball played into the penalty area from the right by Oscar, Fred went to ground in front of defender Dejan Lovren, drawing a whistle. Pletikosa guessed correctly on Neymar’s try from the spot, but his hands weren’t strong enough to keep out a ball sent high into the left side of goal.

Over the game’s final 23 minutes, César was called on to make three big saves, with chasing Croatia controlling play over the match’s final chapter. In the 91st minute, however, Oscar brought their story to an end, with a ball poked from near 24 yards out getting past Pletikosa at the left post. Where César had stepped up to preserve his team’s points, Pletikosa had let in a second soft goal.

The 3-1 scoreline is what Selecao would have wanted at minute zero, but the form between the whistles left little difference in quality between the tournament favorites and a team hoping to escape Group A. The hosts took full points, but they needed some helped from Nishimura to do so.

[ MORE: Soccerly cover the World Cup ]

Lineups

Brazil: César, Alves, Silva, Luiz, Marcelo; Paulinho (Hernanes 63′), Gustavo; Hulk (Bernard 68′), Oscar, Neymar (Ramires 88′); Fred

Goals: Neymar 29′, (p.k.) 71′, Oscar 90+1′

Croatia: Pletikosa; Srna, Corluka, Lovren, Vrsaijko; Kovacic (Brozovic 61′), Modric, Rakitic; Perisic Olic, Jelavic (Rebic 78′)

Goals: Marcelo (o.g.) 11′