Stuttering Brazil will look to clinch their berth in the last 16 of the World Cup as they host already-eliminated Cameroon in their final Group A match at the National Stadium in the capital here on Monday.
Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side have beaten Croatia and drawn with Mexico in their two games to date, struggling to convince in either match, but both the coach and his players have claimed in recent days that the World Cup hosts are ‘evolving’ as the tournament goes along.
Brazil head into their final group game — their 100th at the World Cup — still not certain of a place in the knockout rounds, but goalkeeper Julio Cesar insisted during the week that the quality of opposition they have come up against so far has helped the Selecao.
The pressure on Brazil to do well at these finals is enormous, but Scolari’s team need not panic about their situation in the group. They lead the group on goal difference from Mexico, and a draw will be enough to take them through to a second-round clash with either Chile or the Netherlands. Indeed, they would still progress even in defeat, as long as Mexico beat Croatia in the group’s other game, due to be played at the same time in Recife.
In any case, the prospect of Brazil losing to a Cameroon side in complete disarray seems slim in the extreme. Volker Finke’s men have already failed in their attempts to become the first Cameroon team to advance from their group since 1990, and their campaign has been beset by trouble since the very beginning.
A row over bonuses overshadowed their build-up to the finals, and they became one of the first teams to be eliminated after following up a 1-0 defeat to Mexico by losing 4-0 to Croatia in Manaus last Wednesday.
While Samuel Eto’o struggles due to a knee injury — he has not trained since the Mexico game — Finke saw Alex Song’s tournament come to a premature end after he was sent off for a needless elbow in the back of Mario Mandzukic against Croatia.
Niko Kovac says his Croatia side are facing their own World Cup ‘final’ against Mexico Monday with only a win guaranteeing them a place in the last 16. Croatia bounced back from their opening 3-1 defeat to hosts Brazil in Group A with a 4-0 demolition of Cameroon last Wednesday to keep their knock-out dreams alive.
Striker Mario Mandzukic scored two second-half goals as Croatia sent 10-man Cameroon crashing out of the tournament in disarray. Wolfsburg pair Ivica Olic and Ivan Perisic also got on the scoresheet, but Croatia still remain third in the table behind leaders Brazil and Mexico.
For Mexico, goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa wrote himself into World Cup folklore with a string of top-class saves including one from point-blank range to deny Brazil’s Neymar in Fortaleza last Tuesday.