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Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Group A: Brazil 4 Cameroon 1; Croatia 1 Mexico 3
“The lad’s a bit special,” cooed ITV commentator Sam Matterface.
Probably the understatement of the tournament thus far as Neymar’s first-half double inspired Brazil to victory in pursuit of their sixth title.
My viewing of this World Cup prior to last night had amounted to the 90 minutes of Holland thrashing Spain, England’s loss to Italy and the final half hour of their defeat against Luis Suarez. This was a good one to settle down to.
Holland had clinched top spot in group B in the early evening fixtures with a 2-0 win over Chile, while dethroned champions Spain bowed out with a 3-0 stroll against Australia’s Socceroos.
And Brazil booked a date with the dark horse Chileans, while Mexico set up a meeting with the Dutch as Cameroon and Croatia were sent home.
Barely two minutes had gone when Paulinho should have opened the scoring, but the Tottenham misfit saw his effort blocked.
Cameroon responded with Victor Aboubakar thudding a shot into the body of Marcelo and a tidy spell of possession from the Indomitable Lions had the home fans whistling soon after as Brazil lived a little dangerously at the back.
But the Africans were also showing their heavy-handed side, evoking memories of their 1-0 opening night giantkilling of Argentina at Italia 90, when they finished with nine men.
Allan Nyom was lucky to escape a booking for a shove on Neymar, who provided the perfect response moments later when expertly guiding a left-wing centre from Luiz Gustavo into the far corner of the net.
A Neymar volley was beaten out by Charles Itandje before Joel Matip clipped the Brazil crossbar with a header from a corner.
And Brazil did not heed the warning as Matip tapped home Nyom’s cross from close range to level.
“Cameroon’s front three have got Brazil on toast,” claimed ITV’s co-commentator Clarke Carlisle, as brief mention was made of the slight possibility the hosts could be eliminated.
But then Neymar restored Brazil’s lead with a sublime low drive, as the Lions backed off to their peril.
“The finish is so technically brilliant,” gushed Ian Wright when analysing Neymar’s first goal during half time.
But Fabio Cannavaro was rendered almost speechless when asked to describe the Brazilian defending for Cameroon’s equaliser.
“Madness for a world-class player,” offered Martin O’Neill as Thiago Silva’s positioning was discussed.
Hulk was denied a third soon after the restart by a superb tackle, before Fred flashed a left-footed drive goalwards for Itandje to palm wide.
But more goals seemed inevitable and Fred headed in Brazil’s third, when he should have been flagged offside.
Concerns remain over their defensive play, however, and the frailty of Neymar, who made way for Willian on 70 minutes after one particularly heavy fall.
Mexico moved 2-0 up over Croatia in Recife, meanwhile, forcing Matterface to begin hypothesising about Brazil possibly missing out on top spot.
“Now it’s getting interesting,” he claimed, as Javier Hernandez added a third to bring the Mexicans level on goal difference with eight minutes to play.
The mild panic abated as Fernandinho toe-poked home Brazil’s fourth, though, before news of a Croatian consolation enabled Matterface to relax once and for all.
Bring on Chile.