- Brazil 3-1 Croatia
- Mexico 1-0 Cameroon
- Brazil 0-0 Mexico
- Cameroon 0-4 Croatia
- Cameroon 1-4 Brazil
- Croatia 1-3 Mexico
Venue: Sao Paulo
I guess the biggest shock for most of us was that a World Cup in Brazil began against a backdrop of social unrest, street protests and hardly any of that Latin exuberance we’ve come to expect from this greatest of football nations. Last night Lee Dixon recounted that he’d visited a friend in one of Rio’s better neighbourhoods and asked why the streets weren’t festooned with banners and ribbons. She showed him the banners and ribbons – in boxes. No-one wants to be the first to put them up for fear of their homes being stoned by protesters.
It feels wrong. It is not what we signed up for in taking the World Cup back to Brazil after 64 years. This, more than the farcical awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals to the highest bidders, demonstrates how badly out of touch with reality FIFA are. If you cannot organise a World Cup in Brazil of all places, you really need to pack it in and let people who care about football run the game.
“FIFA go home!” say the banners. They make a very good point.
Sao Paulo was one of the stadiums not completed in time. Temporary roofs and seating and a quite awful P.A. hardly made for an auspicious start to proceedings. I’m not sure quite how long the Opening Ceremony lasted – ITV showed the main bits but I was captivated by the giant LED orb in the middle of the pitch and could have watched that for hours.
The stadium appeared half empty when the dancers took to the field. The first theme was Brazil’s wild places. The obligatory blokes on stilts were dressed as trees and the women as ferns and bushes. Some were dressed as raindrops and others as a river (I’m guessing the Amazon) and these carried a lad in a canoe.
The next theme was diversity and dancers were dressed in a range of native and European outfits. The blokes on stilts appeared to be playing banks of agogos – key samba instruments apparently. Gauchos waltzed with raven-haired beauties. I was trying hard to get with the occasion but my mind kept drifting to the Fast Show’s Chanel 9 and the “Scorchio” weather forecasts.
Next came the only red card of the evening. A referee sent everyone off and a load of kids dressed as black and white footballs took to the field. They were joined by footballers (resplendent in new adidas kit) who did tricks with balls on strings. A Brazilian flag was carried into the stadium.
This was the cue for the large central orb to split asunder like a huge chocolate orange and from within emerged Claudia Leitte. Claudia is a rather fit young Brazilian and she sang something or other – the dreadful P.A. ensured no-one heard it. In due course she was joined by J-Lo and Pitbull (makes wnaker gesture). I understand they sang the World Cup anthem “We are one” but I only saw these words going round the base of the orb. There was lots of gyrating and arm-waving but the greatest mystery was how J-Lo's ample bosoms remained within her skimpy costume all that time.
In due course the orb closed on them and ITV returned to their studios in Rio. Cannavaro was worth listening to and I did enjoy Matt Smith’s interview with Carlos Alberto in the Sao Paulo Arena.
BRAZIL v CROATIA
12 Cesar, 2 Alves, 4 Luiz, 3 Thiago, 6 Marcelo, 8 Paulinho(a), 17 Gustavo, 7 Hulk, 11 Neymar (c), 10 Oscar, 7 Fred(b).
18 Hernanes(a)(63), 20 Bernard (b)(68), Ramires(c)(87)
1 Pletikosa, 11 Srna, 5 Corluka, 6 Lovren, 2 Vrsaljko, 7 Rakatic, 20 Kovacic(a), 4 Perisic, 10 Modric, 18 Olic, 9 Jelavic(b).
14 Brosovic(a)(60) and 16 Rebic(b)(77).
Any suspicions that Brazil’s footballers would shrink beneath the weight of expectations were dispelled before kick-off. TV shots from the tunnel and the singing of the second verse of their National Anthem showed that the guys in the yellow were up for the challenge.
It was interesting that both Paulinho and Gustavo got the nod in the middle. Hulk and Oscar were asked to play wide and Neymar was sat behind Fred. My paper suggested Lovren wouldn’t start but there he was alongside Corluka. Both Croatian full backs were right footed. Rakatic was asked to sit so Modric could get forward. Jelavic led the line with Perisic and Olic on the flanks.
There was nothing cautious about this opening game. Brazil moved the ball quickly as they sought openings and Croatia gave as good as they got. Indeed, Croatia created the first opportunity when Olic got his head to Perisic’s cross but missed the target. On 10 minutes Croatia were one up.
Modric set Olic free down the left. His low cross reached Jelavic whose bungled shot went through Luiz and was swept into the goal by the backtracking Marcelo. A nation gasped.
Marcelo looked uncomfortable but Brazil had plenty of time to put things right. Down the right Oscar was tormenting the stand-in left back. On 14 minutes he swung in a decent cross but Fred, not for the only time, seemed static. The ball also evaded Neymar’s acrobatic attempt to control it beyond the far post. Then Alves brilliantly controlled a long forward pass before hitting his cross straight at the keeper.
On 20 minutes Paulinho evaded both centre backs and struck a firm shot which was beaten away by Pletikosa. The keeper was again called to action when Neymar’s cross found Oscar and his shot was saved. Croatia’s only on-target attempt of the half came when Jelavic met a cross but headed the ball straight at Cesar.
Neymar collected the first booking of the competition when he straight-armed Modric in the middle of the park. Two minutes later Neymar levelled the scores. Oscar rode a couple of firm tackles in the centre circle. He prodded the ball forward and Neymar hit it low and early and in off a post.
There followed a period of intense Brazilian pressure. Croatia defended deep and Modric made a superb interception to thwart Hulk. As the tackles became more desperate, free kicks were awarded. On 40 minutes Rakatic upended Neymar who blasted his shot against the wall. The following short corner was wasted.
Croatia still looked to get forward and were exposed to the counter attack. Only a linesman’s flag halted Oscar as he drove downfield. Back on the attack, Brazil were halted when Lovren blocked Neymar. Then Olic lost possession but Hulk fired wide. 2 minutes of injury time passed without incident. Half time 1-1.
The second period saw more Brazil pressure. Despite promising not to “park the bus” there were periods when Kovac’s team did just that. Oscar won a free kick but it was wasted. I had to laugh on 51 minutes when Lovren tried to shepherd a ball out and was pushed over by Paulinho. Away at Spurs in the Prem, no foul: here in Sao Paolo, Dejan was given a free kick.
Neymar and Oscar continued to mount attacks, the former over-hitting a pass from a promising position. From the hour mark substitutes began to come on. Croatia enjoyed a good period of possession after Brozovic joined. Then Hernanes came on for Paulinho.
On 65 minutes Neymar was chopped down by Corluka who was booked. Dani Alves fired over from the free-kick. Brazil then replaced the misfiring Hulk with Bernard and on 69 minutes they went ahead.
It would appear Dejan Lovren has requested a transfer to a club in the Champions League (try Dnipro or Donetsk maybe but don’t forget the flak jacket). Should he get his wish he’ll find himself regularly marking international centre-forwards. Hopefully he will learn that, should he grab their shoulder as a ball is played into the box, such forwards will collapse like a sack of spuds and claim a penalty. Fred did just that and Mr Nishimura obliged by pointing to the spot. Soft it may have been but entirely predictable. Neymar struck the ball at a reasonable height and, despite getting both gloves on it, Pletikosa managed to shovel it into the goal. 2-1 Brazil.
From that point onwards we had a cracking game as Croatia sought an equaliser and Brazil counter-attacked. Even the stupidity of the commentators could not detract from some lovely football. After 72 minutes Perisic drove an excellent cross in from the right and Luiz managed to clear over his own bar. Then Brazil went forward. Oscar hit an even better cross to the back post but Luiz headed wide with Neymar closing in behind him.
On 77 minutes Jelavic came off, Rebic went left side and Olic moved up-front. On 79 minutes Neymar’s left wing corner was met at the near post by Fred and/or Corluka and the ball flashed across the Croat goal and out for a throw.
On 83 minutes Olic met a cross at the back stick with Cesar flapping and falling over. The ball was blocked by Luiz, then rolled in by a Croat but the lino had his flag up and Brazil got a free kick. No-one seemed sure what it was for. Croatia kept at it, winning corners and Cesar was forced to save from Modric.
On 87 minutes Neymar was replaced by Ramires. In the 89th minute Hernanes skinned a couple of Croat defenders on the left wing and the ITV commentators mistook his fabulous skill for a fluke. How I hate bloody ITV!
In injury time Cesar was forced into another save and Luiz blocked the follow up. Immediately Oscar gathered the ball in midfield, broke forward at pace and then toe-poked past the sluggish keeper for a 3rd. 3-1 Brazil.
The remaining injury time ticked away and Brazil ran out deserved winners. Oscar’s goal was the icing on the cake but I’d already marked him down as Man of the Match. He was excellent.
I could not listen to the ITV idiots droning on about cheating. There was none. The Japanese ref had a reasonable game: he may have been generous with some decisions but that is what happens at World Cups. People looking for evidence of skulduggery might well start with the performance of Croatia’s goalkeeper – 2 soft shots that he took ages getting down to either side of a penalty he had both hands on yielded 3 goals. I’d be really disappointed if Artur played that poorly for Saints.
Anyway, the World Cup is up and running. Brazil won their first match yet the public still seem pissed off. So are Croatia but they have two winnable games to put things right.
Bring it on!
Neymar 29′, 71′ (pen)
- Marcelo 11′ (og)
Ref: Yuichi Nishimura
MEXICO 1 CAMEROON 0
Date: 13/6/14 Venue: NATAL
If you build a football stadium adjacent to the world’s largest tropical rainforest it would be expected that you might get some rain. And did it rain in Natal on Friday? I’ve not seen rain like it since, well, New Year’s Day actually when my attempts to get to see Saints v Chelsea were thwarted by heavy rain and flooding. Friday’s downpour was immense but did little to dampen the enthusiasm of those crazy Mexican fans. I saw them close up at Wembley in 2012 and their costumes really are something else.
Following Brazil’s defeat of Croatia on Thursday, today’s match seemed to be about deciding which other nation would contest the runners up berth with the Croats.
16 Itandje, 4 Djeugoue, 3 N’Koulou, 14 Chedjou, 2 Assou Ekotto, 18 Enoh, 6 Song, 17 M’Bia, 8 Moukandjo, 9 Eto’o, 13 Choupo-Moting
Subs: 5 Nounkeu (45) for 4 and 15 Webo (79) for 6.
13 Ochoa, 22 Aguilar, 2 Rodriguez, 4 Marquez, 15 Moreno, 7 Layun, 6 Herrera, 23 Vazquez, 18 Guardado, 10 Dos Santos, 19 Peralta
Subs: 8 Fabian (68) for 18, 14 Chicarito (72) for 19 and 3 Salcido (91) for Herrera.
Rafael Marquez set a new record for being the first to captain his nation at 4 World Cups. Well done sir! His team certainly looked up for it. Both teams sang a pretty good anthem but it was Mexico fastest out of the blocks and Asoou Ekotto et al were soon hacking the ball away from their goal.
As early as the 3rd minute we got a portent of things to come when Mexico’s cross clearly deflected off a defender yet a goal kick was awarded. Mexico’s wing backs were getting forward at every opportunity and whether by accident or design Cameroon were camped on the edge of their box. The boy Layun had the first serious shot on goal on 7 minutes but hit it straight at the keeper. A minute later Herrera tried his luck but blasted his shot horribly wide.
On 10 minutes Dos Santos volleyed home a right wing cross but celebrations were cut short by the lino’s flag. Replays showed the #10 was onside when the ball was played in. On 13 minutes Peralta got clear but was tripped. Fortunately for Cameroon the offside flag was again held aloft and this time it looked a good decision.
On 15 minutes Cameroon got forward and won a corner. They too got the ball into the net but again an offside flag was waved and their effort was rightly cancelled out. Then Eto’o threatened but Moreno slid in with a timely challenge. From the corner Mbia headed well wide but play had already been stopped for some imaginary infringement. Cameroon were now competing and, after Song recovered from the impact of a high boot, they broke down the left. Assou Ekotto’s low cross was met by Eto’o. He rather scuffed his shot but it bounced up and away off a post with Ochoa grasping at thin air.
On 23 minutes a further Cameroon corner caused mayhem in the Mexico box. The ball pinged around until lashed wide of target. Despite this sustained pressure Cameroon have only 40% possession during the first quarter.
On 26 minutes Aguilar was upended by Chopou Moting who somehow avoided a yellow. Guardado launched the ball to the back stick where Marquez got in Moreno’s way and headed wide. The officials were not helping the game flow. It was stopped for the slightest misdemeanour and what with the torrential rain it can’t have been much fun to watch.
On 28 minutes a left wing corner was swung into the Cameroon box, flicked off a defender and Dos Santos stooped to head home. Again the flag went up and the game’s second goal was wrongly chalked off. These officials were genuinely piss-poor.
Another foul by Mbia on Guardado gave Mexico a free-kick but Song cleared. Mexico were forcing Cameroon back and the Africans sometimes had a string of 6 or 7 players strung across their box. On 39 Mbia again decked Guardado and again got away with it.
On the touchline, the Mexican coach was doing his nut. So much so that the referee was obliged to walk over and ask him to calm down on 42 minutes. As the first half ended Peralta again broke beyond the defence and was flagged for offside yet again. Half time arrived - 0-0 and not much entertainment to be had.
The Cameroon full back Djeugoue had been run ragged by Layun and did not appear after the break. His spot was claimed by Nounkeu.
The game looked similar to the first half with Mexico driving forward but the second period was played at a distinctly slower pace. On 47 minutes Peralta was put clear but Itandje stood up and blocked the shot with his legs. Another “professional foul” went unpunished when song escaped a card for his foul on Dos Santos.
For all their adventure in the opposite half, Mexico looked rather uncomfortable defending. On 51 they failed to break up an attack which saw Choupo Moting with a glorious chance which he fired straight at Ochoa.
There followed a niggley period with both sides committing lazy fouls. Marquez then found Layun with a diagonal pass but the wing-back’s cross deflected kindly to the keeper. On 57 minutes the referee finally waved a card for Moreno’s innocuous challenge. Assou Ekotto’s free kick bounced off the wall and the resulting corner was cleared.
Back down the other end Guardado played a brace of quite awful balls into the box failing to find a colleague on either occasion. A minute later Mexico scored. A sweet pass found Dos Santos running into the box. His firm, low shot was scrambled away by Itandje but the rebound was stoked into the corner by Peralta. The Mexicans looked for a flag, there was none so they were able to celebrate. 1-0 Mexico.
The lead should have doubled within 3 minutes but when Guardado played in Herrera with just the keeper to beat he failed to control the ball. The next Cameroon attack saw Eto’o crowded out. The striker went down and for all the world it looked as if he was taking a rest. Then Assou Ekotto over-hit a cross and on 68 minutes more substitutions followed.
The final phase saw Cameroon doing a bit more attacking but some poor final passes and dogged blocking saw the Mexicans stay ahead. On 76 minutes Cameroon gained their first yellow card (for Nounkeu on Fabian) but his trip was no worse than much that had preceded it.
Layun missed with a really dreadful shot at one end then Cameroon wasted a corner won by Eto’o who by now had Webo alongside him. On 81 minutes Hernandez played a sweet ball for Fabian but Nounkeu swept him and the ball away.
In injury time Cameroon pushed on and Ochoa was finally required to make a proper save to keep out Moukandjo’s header. Then Mexico broke out and Hernandes missed an absolute sitter that should have wrapped it up. But Mexico held on for a 1-0 victory.
Mexico were worthy winners. They were tactically more astute than Cameroon and their use of wing-backs and midfield runners were a constant threat. Dos Santos may have been denied 2 perfectly sound goals but at least he gets my vote as Man of the Match.
If the Croats were watching this, my guess is they’ll be fancying their chances of getting out of Group A.
- Peralta 61′
Ref: Wilmer Roldán
Ochoa was the Mexican hero in goal, pulling off save after save
BRAZIL 0 MEXICO 0
Date: 17/6/14 Venue: Fortaleza
For such serial qualifiers at World Cup finals (Brazil all 20 and Mexico 15) it is hardly surprising their paths have often crossed. Mostly these encounters have seen the guys in the gold shirts triumphant. In summer 2012 Mexico beat Brazil 2-1 at Wembley to win Olympic gold then last year, in this very stadium, Brazil beat Mexico 2-0 en-route to lifting the Confederations Cup. Big Phil treats Mexico with considerable respect describing them as “a stone in my shoe”. This summer’s encounter proved to be just that.
12 Cesar, 2 Alves, 3 Thiago, 4 Luiz, 6 Marcelo, 8 Paulinho, 17 Gustavo, 16 Ramires, 11 Oscar, 10 Neymar: 9 Fred
20 Bernard for 16 (46), 21 Jo for Fred (68) and 19 Willian for 11 (83).
13 Ochoa, 22 Aguilar, 2 Rodriguez, 4 Marquez, 15 Moreno, 7 Layun, 6 Herrera, 23 Vazquez, 18 Guardado, 10 Dos Santos, 19 Peralta
14 Chicarito for 19 (73), 8 Fabian for 6 (75) and 9 Jimenez for 10 (83).
You had to feel for the Mexican players and fans bravely singing their anthem in Brazil’s “Fortress”. Fortaleza is where Brazil’s campaign took off last summer and the unaccompanied singing of the second verse of their anthem became par for the course. It was delivered with such passion on Tuesday, one wonders about the emotional condition of the players at kick-off.
Brazil made one change with Ramires replacing the injured Hulk. Mexico were unchanged but, for some reason, wore very nice red adidas shirts. Shame they paired them with black shorts which made them look like Cardiff.
The first quarter of the match was peppered with distinctly poor tackles. The first arrived as soon as Neymar touched the ball and was clattered unceremoniously by Vazquez. Brazil looked to get forward but it was Mexico who made early progress, winning a corner which came to nought. Gustavo was then flattened by Layun but the ref kept his cards in his pocket.
Another free kick on 6 minutes was in range for Luiz to shoot. After all the fuss about lines of shaving foam to prevent encroachment, I was amazed to see a defender start running at the same time as Luiz and easily block his shot about 3 yards from where it was taken. On 10 minutes Brazil created a proper chance. Marcelo fed Oscar down the left and his cross was met at the front post by Fred. The header went outside the post and ruffled the goal net. That was about the only contribution Fred made all game.
Brazil were doing their share of fouls too. On 12 mins Alves crudely hacked Guardado. A minute later Brazil got down the left again with Neymar finding Marcelo. His cross was deflected, hit Paulinho and out for a goal kick.
The game flowed back and forth with plenty of fouls, free kicks and poor quality long-range shooting. Fred was mostly static and often offside. Gustavo hit a contender for “worst shot of the tournament” high into the crowd. Mexico had their spells of possession but their shooting was hardly better.
On 22 mins Marquez drove imperiously upfield and played a one-two with Peralta in the Brazil box. Both players were hacked at by defenders and, had either gone down, it was difficult to see a penalty not being given – unless officials are under orders not to award them against the hosts. A minute later Herrera hit a screamer that Cesar tipped over. Goal kick – yeah, right.
Brazil went straight down the other end and nearly scored. Paulinho missed Neymar’s initial cross but Brazil recovered the ball and played it back in. Neymar rose and hit a powerful header goalwards forcing the save of the night from Ochoa. (Unfortunately the match director chose to use goal-line technology to show the ball had not crossed the line which set off Pearce about the “mix-up the other night” again. The only mix up is between your ears, you utter tool. Please BBC, get rid!)
That moment of quality stood out but that is not to say this was not exciting stuff. Both teams tried to attack, both were resolute in defence and rarely was any quarter given. The end-to-end nature of the contest was perfectly illustrated when Layun fired over Cesar’s bar and seconds later Ochoa was fielding a long range effort from Oscar.
Neymar kept trying to make things happen. On 32 he seemed to take on the whole Mexican defence and only weight of numbers stopped him, the ball bouncing harmlessly into the keeper’s grasp. More chances came at either end. One sweeping Brazil move ended with Marcelo firing wide. Then Guardado broke down the left, setting up Vazquez whose shot was wide but it had Cesar worried.
On 43 minutes Alves was fouled. Neymar stood over the ball as the big blokes trooped forward. The #10 hit a sweet ball over the defenders for Thiago to chest down. Both Luiz and Paulinho closed in but the latter’s toe-poke was saved by Ochoa. The Mexican keeper was having a good afternoon. There was still time for Mexico to win another free-kick which Guardado failed to convert before half time arrived. 0-0.
Ramirez had been poor and received the only yellow card of the first 45. He did not return after the break with Big Phil opting for Bernard instead. Mexico looked like they were settling in for a long evening as they sat in a rigid 5-3-2 for the opening period of the second half. Their 3 centre-backs looked very comfortable and each Brazilian cross was calmly headed away. When they did win a corner, Brazil worked the ball to Oscar but his shot was woeful.
Mexico then took over but were content to pass the ball around in the middle of the park. It was unusual to watch Brazil chasing the ball. Eventually the men in red did create openings with Guardado’s effort blocked, Vazquez shooting over and Dos Santos’s strike deflecting safely to the keeper. At this stage Mexico looked well on top and it would have been no surprise had they gone ahead. Herrera, Guardado and Dos Santos all went close but, during this period, Mexico received their first caution for Aguilar’s crude hack on Bernard. Vazquez received Mexico’s second yellow for fouling Neymar. The victim took the free kick himself, curling his shot wide and causing Drew to remark “He is no Rickie Lambert!”
On 65 minutes Jo was stripped off and ready to join – not before time. In the last attack before being withdrawn, Fred was caught offside for the umpteenth time. Fair play to Lawro who remarked “Get warmed up you’re coming off”.
The persistent Neymar engineered another chance when he controlled a cross on his chest and fired in a shot which the agile Ochoa saved. As Alves followed up the ball was put out for a corner. Mexico’s keeper punched the first cross away and safely caught the second. Jo’s introduction seemed to have speeded things up and Brazil looked more mobile all over the park. Suddenly it looked as if Mexico might be engulfed by a yellow tide but their centre backs stood strong.
On 72 minutes Peralta made way for Hernandez and the United player was soon threatening but Luiz calmly robbed him and cleared the danger. Jo’s better movement increased Brazil’s options and, when Bernard fed him on the left side of the box, he beat his defender but fired beyond the far post.
Fabian replaced the tiring Herrera but Brazil now seemed to get past the Mexican midfield at will – only to falter when faced by Moreno, Rodriguez and the magnificent Marquez. The equally impressive Thiago Silva was booked on 78 mins, going through Hernandez from behind. Dos Santos drove the free-kick against the wall. Brazil immediately broke up field and the final ball to Jo was smothered at his feet by Ochoa.
On 83 mins each side made their final substitutions – Willian for Oscar and Jimenez for Dos Santos. Another foul on Gustavo gave Neymar the chance to put a free-kick into the box. For once his cross evaded the Mexican defenders giving Thiago a free header but he planted it straight at the keeper. Then Marcelo cut into the box, felt a hand on his shoulder and went down like the proverbial sack of spuds. It had worked for Fred the other day but this referee waved play on.
In the dying minutes both sides fashioned further chances but by now it was clear no one would score. Three minutes of extra time were played but honours were even. It was a highly entertaining 0-0 draw which saw both sides plant one foot in the next round. The one thing that was determined by this result is that the Cameroon v Croatia game becomes a knock-out tie - whoever loses will first on the plane home.
There were a number of contenders for Man of the Match - mostly defenders. For his calm consistency my choice is Rafael Marquez. At 35, he still looks a classy player and one wonders whether Barca let him leave too soon…
Ref: Cüneyt Çakir
- Brazil 53%
- Mexico 47%
- Brazil 14
- Mexico 13
- Brazil 6
- Mexico 2
- Brazil 4
- Mexico 3
- Brazil 13
- Mexico 18
Song's 2014 World Cup comes to an abrupt end
CAMEROON 0 CROATIA 4
Date: 18/6/14 Venue: Manaus
Yesterday’s draw in Fortaleza turned this into a knock-out match with the loser leaving the competition. It was nicely set up to be a close fought game but a moment of imbecility by one player cost his side dear. Three years slog through the qualifiers was squandered away in one mad moment. Such a shame national pride counts for less than player bonuses in some instances.
16 Itandje, 17 Mbia, 14 Chedjou, 3 Nkoulou, 2 Asso Ekotto, 6 Song, 21 Matip, 1 Enoh, 13 Choupo Moting, 10 Aboubakar, 8 Moukandjo
5 Nounkeu for 14 (46), 15 Webo for 10 (69) and 20 Salli for Choupo Moting (75).
1 Pletikosa, 11 Srna, 5 Corluka, 6 Lovren, 3 Pranjic, 10 Modric, 7 Rakitic, 4 Perisic, 19 Sammir, 18 Olic, 17 Mandzukic
22 Eduardo for 18 (68), 20 Kovacic for 19 (72) and 16 Rebic for 4 (78).
Both sides made 3 changes from their opening matches. Mandzukic was back from suspension to lead the Croatian line, Sammir played in the hole behind him and Pranjic took over at left back. Against Mexico, right back had been a problem position for Cameroon. For this match Mbia was moved there with Matip taking over in midfield. Aboubakar took Eto’o’s place up-front with the captain’s armband passing to Nkoulou.
Cameroon made a positive start with Moukandjo getting down the right wing. The first attack saw his cross hit the side netting but his next sortie was halted by Pranjic’s foul. Song’s free-kick was cleared. Then Aboubakar showed good feet in the box to earn a corner. Assou Ekotto’s cross was met by the #10 but behind him Mbia was fouling Mandzukic. Then Lovren fouled the young striker and Perisic had to clear the resulting free kick.
Croatia finally ventured down the other end when Perisic played a ball into the box but Mbia shepherded it back to Itandje. In Croatia’s next attack Srna crossed for Mandzukic but the ball sprang away. Perisic seized the opportunity to play a deft pass to the far post where Olic had a tap in. 1-0.
Suddenly Croatia were dominating possession: first Mandzukic fired over, then Perisic and Srna sent crosses over that needed clearing, the latter being headed out for a corner by Mbia. When the ball came back in it was knocked down to Perisic whose shot was acrobatically cleared by Enoh. The next opportunity fell to Rakitic but his shot hit the keeper.
Cameroon then had a brief period of control. Mbia’s cross was headed away by Dejan. Moments later Mbia had another chance but overhit the cross. Then both Song and Mbia had shooting chances, Song’s was blocked, the other flew well wide. Even the industrious Olic was back on his goal-line, heading crosses away. Then Croatia broke up-field and Olic hacked his shot wide.
For a period in the middle of the half the game settled into a midfield scrap. There was plenty of ambition but poor passing saw possession repeatedly turned over. On the half hour Srna was fouled and the Croatia medics took to the field wearing very smart black and grey check shirts – would make a great away kit! Srna was OK to continue but the free kick was wasted by Mandzukic straying offside.
Mbia continued to impress down the right side but Croatia’s defenders showed him into areas where he could do little harm. On 35 minutes Olic got away down the left and hoisted a cross that Itandje, under no pressure, fumbled out for a corner. Perisic got on the end of the cross but headed over.
Cameroon continued to press. On 38 minutes Matip made a great run into the opponent’s box before losing control and running the ball out. Shortly afterwards Sammir worked a shooting chance and fired straight at the keeper when better options existed. Then the game changed completely.
As Pletikosa launched the ball downfield, Song struck Mandzukic right in front of the referee. Mr Proenca could barely believe his eyes – but reacted correctly by brandishing the red card. Song trudged off and with him went any hope of Cameroon progressing further in this competition.
The change was immediate. Modric and Rakitic had struggled to find space or time on the ball but now they had both. Cameroon initially sank back towards their own box and found it that much harder to get upfield themselves. There was rarely any end product but just on half-time the lively Aboubakar was fed by Moukandjo but his shot sailed over. HT 1-0.
The half time break allowed Cameroon to reorganise. Nounkou came on in defence allowing Mbia to play further forward. Both sides mounted attacks to no avail.
There have been few average performances by goalkeepers in Brazil 2014. So far matches have highlighted performances that were either brilliant or dreadful. On 48 minutes Itandje took a huge stride into the latter camp when he played a clearance up the right wing where it was intercepted by Perisic. The #4 still had plenty to do but he had a huge space to run into. Cutting in from the wing, defenders in hot pursuit, Perisic coolly slotted the ball between the keeper and his near post. 2-0.
It should have been 3 on 50 minutes when Mandzukic was played through on goal but put his shot wide. Croatia saw much more of the ball in the second half but Cameroon kept creating – and wasting – chances. Their shooting was becoming increasingly ambitious, no more so than when Nkoulou attempted to volley Assou Ekotto’s cross in the style of Van Basten but without the same spectacular result.
The bulk of the chances were coming at the other end though. Somehow Olic failed to score from close range following Srna’s corner. Then Nkoulou fouled Perisic in the “D” but Srna sent his free kick over the bar. Modric was dictating play and his probing led to a series of corners. Eventually Pranjic lofted one in from the left and Mandzukic rose and headed Croatia’s 3rd. An hour gone but the game was well and truly over.
Croatia were now able to pass the ball about at will. Rarely were Cameroon able to fashion a chance but Aboubakar did on 68 minutes but again missed the goal. A host of substitutions followed and two of Croatia’s new men combined to set up a 4th goal on 73 mins.
Kovacic cut in from the right and picked out Eduardo on the edge of the box. The striker hit a low shot that Itandje got a hand on but merely took all the pace off it to allow Mandzukic to roll it home. 4-0.
The final 15 minutes became untidy as players tired and Cameroon lost any shape they’d been sent out with. Both sides continued to create the odd chance, the best being that created for Rakitic by Rebic but he missed an absolute sitter. Then Webo rose to meet a cross and his firm header hit the bar. The referee kindly demanded only 2 extra minutes and that was that. If I was awarding Man of the Match for a positive contribution I'd probably go for Olic. The sad fact is that the man with most influence on this game, for all the wrong reasons, was Alex Song.
How there weren’t more goals I don’t know. Both sides had plenty of shots but the key stat was that Cameroon only managed two on target. Not much use if you let in four! So Cameroon have to hang around until Monday when they play Brazil. Then it is the long flight home for them.
Croatia live to fight another day. They are already playing knock-out football and only a win against Mexico will see them progress. That is now a big game – shame I’ve swapped it with Jickster.
- Olic 11′
- Perisic 48′
- Mandzukic 61′, 73′
Ref: Pedro Proença
- Cameroon 17
- Croatia 18
- Cameroon 2
- Croatia 9
- Cameroon 4
- Croatia 7
- Cameroon 11
- Croatia 9
Another two goals for Neymar make him the top scorer so far
Cameroon v Brazil
23rd June, National Stadium, Brasilia
The drawn match between Mexico and Brazil saw those 2 sides at the top of Group A. Better goal difference meant Brazil were sure to qualify for the last 16 but the results of today’s matches would determine who’d be top and face Chile or 2nd and meet Holland. Hulk had shrugged off the injury that kept him out against Mexico so Brazil reverted to their usual “first eleven”. Cameroon made more changes – the most noticeable absentees being Song (suspended) and Assou Ekotto, last seen fighting one of his team-mates…
16 Itandje, 22 Nyom, 21 Matip, 3 N’Koulou, 12 Bedimo, 17 Mbia, 18 Enoh, 7 N’Guemo, 8 Moukandjo, 10 Aboubakar, 13 Choupo Moting
- 20 Salli for 8 (58), 15 Webo for 10 (71) and 11 Makoun for 13 (80)
12 Casar, 2 Alves, 3 Thiago, 4 Luiz, 6 Marcelo, 8 Paulinho, 17 Gustavo, 7 Hulk, 11 Oscar, 10 Neymar, 7 Fred
5 Fernandinho for 8 (46), 16 Ramires for 7 (63) and 19 Willian for 10 (71).
The huge bowl of the Estadio Nacional was a mass of yellow as the teams took to the field. Cameroon wore green and red which made it the most colourful match to date. They sang a passable anthem before, it seemed, the whole of Brazil joined in to deliver both verses of the hosts anthem.
Brazil began at a frenzied pace. An early Neymar free kick was cleared but back they came, almost walking in an opener. Fred and Paulinho had chances but a corner was their only reward. The corner was rubbish, setting an unfortunate trend for the evening. It was all Brazil for 5 minutes but eventually Cameroon ventured forward with the lively Aboubakar speeding down the left wing. He was closed down and lost possession. Hulk then played in Fred who won a corner. This one went straight to the keeper’s gloves. Brazil seemed intent on missing out midfield entirely. Luiz kept pinging diagonal passes over the top of Bedimo where Hulk raced onto them. Given the number of times they tried this ploy, they were obviously expecting greater reward. A rare attack down the left saw Marcelo run the ball out of play.
On 10 minutes Cameroon fashioned a decent chance ending with Bedimo’s goal-bound shot being blocked by Marcelo on the line. Cameroon had survived the initial onslaught and were now showing greater ambition. Brazil defenders were obliged to head crosses away or block them at source. Then Marcelo broke upfield and Enoh fouled him, receiving the first yellow card. A foul by Gustavo on 14 mins gave Moukandjo the chance to hit a free-kick into Brazil’s box but it cleared everyone and was fielded by Cesar. Brazil then moved upfield and as Neymar chased a ball out of play, Nyom shoved him into a bank of photographers. Incredibly, the referee took no action.
Neymar did act however. Gustavo recovered the ball deep in the Cameroon half. He advanced down the left and hit a sweet pass into the middle. With Cameroon’s defence AWOL, Neymar let the ball run across him before side-footing it neatly into the corner. 1-0 Brazil. A nation celebrated - vigorously.
Brazil soon came close to doubling that lead. Another diagonal ball found Hulk charging down the right. This time his cross was good and Itandje made a good block when Neymar’s beautifully struck volley came his way. Brazil were also making good progress down the left and a minute later Paulinho presented Fred with another scoring chance but Bedimo made a timely block and his keeper grabbed the loose ball.
Despite this pressure Cameroon were still looking to get forward themselves. I like the look of Aboubakar: he went right through a Luiz tackle (in the manner of Matt Le Tiss) but the calmer Thiago shepherded the ball to safety. More right wing route-one saw Hulk running by his man again. Everyone in the stadium witnessed the blatant trip on him apart from the ref who waved play-on.
Cameroon then mounted a series of attacks. From the first, Enoh’s mishit shot deflected off a defender and looped over Cesar who was rooted. It narrowly missed his goal. Matip rose to meet the corner and his header deflected away for another corner. From this cross the ball ended up on Cameroon’s left where Nyom easily rounded Alves. He fired a low cross behind Brazil’s statuesque defenders for the unmarked Matip to tap in. 1-1.
Brazil looked to get forward again but Fred’s lack of movement saw moves grind to a halt. Cameroon were looking more confident now. Their passes were crisper and they began to press Brazil’s midfielders, getting the ball back higher up the park. Pressure on Marcelo forced him to slice the ball off for a corner. Then Nyom joined the attack again – another shot, another corner. Soon after, Choupo Moting headed wide. The home fans were noticeably quieter. The carnival atmosphere of the start was gone and you could sense the tension from this side of the Atlantic.
I have enormous respect for Pele (I saw him play don’tcha know). He has however said some damn fool things, such as “2014 will be the first ever World Cup where Brazil’s defence is better than their attack”. On about the half-hour mark I found myself questioning that remark. Dani Alves and Marcelo are not proper full-backs. They are at best wing-backs but in a 4 man defence their defensive qualities are regularly exposed. Granted Thiago Silva is a proper defender and often redeems seemingly hopeless situations. Alongside him, David Luiz is a decent footballer but, like the full backs, he is not what I call an international class defender. I wrote “free form” defending in my notes. They look horribly disorganised when Cameroon attack and seem to rely on individual acts of heroism to stop the opponents. It just ain’t right!
As if to underline the vacuousness of Pele’s remark, Brazil then went up the other end and scored a cracking goal. Brazil recovered possession, Marcelo fed Neymar and the #10 cut in from the left and hit a crisp shot into the corner no-one was expecting him to aim for. 2-1. Neymar brace! Moments later, Hulk fired in a fierce shot, saved and away for a corner. Another awful corner too – hit beyond all-comers and out for a goal kick.
Cameroon were still getting upfield. On 38 mins, Choupo Moting fired a shot into the side netting. In the background, the fans were doing an anticlockwise Mexican wave. What is that all about? There followed another period of possession swapping in the middle of the park. Twice Luiz tried to carry the ball forward, twice he lost it. The first time he was rescued by Thiago, the second he tripped Enoh. Again Thiago was on hand to clear the free kick. In a frantic couple of minutes, Brazil created and missed two very respectable chances for Hulk. The first saw him fail to control the ball, the second at least required Itandje to make a save. HT 2-1.
Fernandinho replaced Paulinho for the 2nd half and Brazil were right at it again. Hulk surged past his defender, took a massive swing at the ball, missed and fell on his arse. Oh dear. Undeterred he was soon back attacking. He seemed to be tripped by Bedimo but the pundits reckoned “great tackle”. Moments later Fred hit a firm shot on target, tipped round for a corner.
On 48 mins Enoh hacked down Neymar. That deserved a 2nd yellow but it wasn’t shown. Neymar’s free kick was tipped over the bar. The corner was cleared but Brazil quickly recovered possession. Fernandinho fed the overlapping Luiz whose cross was met at the back stick by Fred. He headed it in. 3-1. ITV then provided another example of why they should never be let near live sport. They put up a still with a line drawn on the pitch to show Fred was offside. The line went from where Luiz was stood and Fred was indeed in front of that line. Unfortunately the imbeciles in ITV’s back office do not know the offside rule. The ball was a good yard in front of Luiz before he wrapped his foot round it and Fred was behind the ball. Give me strength!!!
On 56 mins Hulk had another chance to shine. With Neymar running to his left he kept the ball too long and defenders closed in. It ended with a nothing shot. Neymar must have been furious. Then Cameroon brought on Salli. There was another of the frequent midfield muddles where neither side could progress. This ended when a long ball towards Brazil’s penalty was headed vertically upwards by Luiz. Fortunately Cesar was alert and claimed the ball as it dropped.
Hulk was replaced by Ramires. Brazil continued to defend in a haphazard fashion with the full-backs hardly ever on the right side of whoever they ought to be marking. Neymar continued to provide the main threat for the hosts. On 66 he latched onto a Ramires cross but was offside. On 70 he began another run but went down heavily. Brazil were about to bring on Willian – Big Phil decided to bring off his limping star man. Cameroon replaced the young Aboubakar with the aged Webo.
The last 20 minutes had added interest as Mexico began racking up goals against the Croats. At one point they were level on goal difference. Finishing 2nd would mean playing Holland at the weekend. Cameroon had got away with some dodgy tackles but Mbia’s on Gustavo on 79 mins finally got the yellow card it deserved. Then, inexplicably Cameroon handed Brazil a 4th goal. Oscar was caught offside. The free kick was rolled forward casually and Fernandinho pounced. He played the ball into Fred and continued his run. Fred found Oscar who laid the ball back to Fernandinho who prodded it into the far corner. Awful defending from Cameroon, beautiful passing from Brazil: 4-1 here and a late goal from Croatia determined Brazil would top Group A.
In the final minutes Willian got a shot on target, saved by Itandje. Cameroon’s last shot sailed wide. The crowd were able to relax during 4 minutes added time and even began chanting “Olé” every time a Brazilian touched the ball.
4-1 looks comfortable. It was hardly that. Yet Brazil go forward to face Chile at the weekend. The hosts have hardly been convincing, but they are still there and you have to be in it to win it.
Cameroon now fly home. Ultimately they were a disappointment.
- Matip 26′
- Neymar 17′, 34′
- Fred 49′
- Fernandinho 84′
Ref: Jonas Eriksson
- Cameroon 45%
- Brazil 55%
- Cameroon 12
- Brazil 19
- Cameroon 1
- Brazil 11
- Cameroon 6
- Brazil 7
- Cameroon 14
- Brazil 19
Mexico scored more than one goal against Croatia for the first time ever
Croatia v Mexico
23rd June, Recife
01 Pletikosa, 11 Srna, 02 Vrsaljko (Kovacic - 58'), 03 Pranjic (Jelavic - 74'), 05 Corluka, 06 Lovren, 04 Perisic, 07 Rakitic (Booked), 17 Mandzukic, 10 Modric, 18 Olic (Rebic - 69' (Dismissed) )
08 Vukojevic, 09 Jelavic, 12 Zelenika, 13 Schildenfeld, 14 Brozovic, 15 Badelj, 16 Rebic, 19 Cruz Campos, 20 Kovacic, 21 Vida, 22 Eduardo, 23 Subasic
13 Ochoa, 22 Aguilar, 07 Layún, 15 Moreno, 04 Márquez (Booked), 02 Rodríguez, 06 Herrera, 23 Vázquez (Booked), 19 Peralta (Peña - 79'), 10 dos Santos (Hernández - 62'), 18 Guardado (Fabián - 84')
01 Corona, 03 Salcido, 05 Reyes, 08 Fabián, 09 Jiménez, 11 Pulido, 12 Talavera, 14 Hernández, 16 Ponce, 17 Brizuela, 20 Aquino, 21 Peña
I was glad Spot chose the Brazil game for his final match report from this group as this one looked nicely set up, with Croatia needing to win to edge out Mexico for qualification. So the first half was rather a disappointment as neither side looked to be particularly penetrative, with defences well on top.
Early on there’s a discussion about Ronald and Erwin Koeman for some reason, co-commentator Danny Someone (Murphy?) saying that ‘hopefully’ Saints can continue going from strength to strength. This is the most interesting thing in the opening quarter hour, as although Croatia try to put Mexico under pressure, they fail to create anything of note. Then we get another reminder of Saints as the Mexicans start to build out from the back when it doesn’t really look on, but credit to them they do really well to work their way downfield, the move leading to an excellent Herrera shot from 25 yards that hits the underside of the bar and bounces clear. This lifts Mexico, who get a grip on the game for a while, Peralta getting on the end of a through pass but he can’t finish from a difficult angle.
Pranjic and Perisic both shoot off target from distance for Croatia and both sides are limited to long range efforts for the rest of the half, which gets a bit testy towards the end. Some niggly challenges, accusations of diving from both teams give a bit of edge to the game.
Unfortunately this aggro doesn’t exactly lead to goalmouth action and the second half begins in the same fashion as both teams become wasteful as they get into the final third. Of course all this suits Mexico down to the ground and it’s Croatia that need to take the game to their opponents. It’s Mexico that push forward though, and they should have a penalty as Srna blocks a shot with his arm, we get a very amusing shot of the Mexican bench going apoplectic with rage at the decision. Moments later Corluka has to head out from under his own bar from a dangerous corner and Aguilar forces a good save from Pletikosa at close range.
After 71 minutes, Mexico get the goal they deserve, yet another from a corner at this World Cup, Marquez beating Corluka in the air and heading down and into the net. Saints trivia- I remember Gordon Strachan saying that we made some attempts to sign Marquez before he joined Barcelona back in the day, what a shame we never did. The tv director finds plenty of Mexican fans suitably dressed as stereotypes. 3 minutes later the Mexicans get a second, breaking and finding a stretched and tired Croatian defence, they work it cleverly to drag defenders out of position and find Guardado who buries it into the roof of the net, it’s a really good goal and it ends any Croatian hope.
Croatia do try to spark to life, a burst into the box denied only by an excellent clearance by Moreno, but Mexico get a third, a well worked near post flick from another corner is finished at close range by Hernandez who is unmarked and makes Mexico dream of topping the group, needing only one more goal to do so, but we shortly hear that Brazil have scored another to end that idea, then Perisic collects a nice backheel from Rakitic to score a good consolation goal and effectively confirm second place. Rebic is sent off at the end, but I actually missed that, I read that it was a bad challenge though.
This wasn’t the classic that it might have been, I guess that would have needed a quicker start from Croatia which might have meant it would swing back and forth, but Croatia never really looked like getting in front. Mexico managed the game well, keeping things tight at the start and slowly taking a grip on things. They were dominant in the second half and made the better chances. Once they were in front they repeatedly looked like scoring more goals on the break. How far can they go? Much like Chile and Costa Rica, they play as a team and as we have seen many times in the tournament so far, that’s a very useful thing.
- Perisic 87′
- Márquez 72′
- Guardado 75′
- Hernández 82′
Ref: Ravshan Irmatov
- Croatia 55%
- Mexico 45%
- Croatia 10
- Mexico 11
- Croatia 3
- Mexico 4
- Croatia 7
- Mexico 9
- Croatia 17
- Mexico 12