Jack: Brutal Brazil and magnificent Mexico advance

Kristian Jack
6/23/2014 8:05:42 PM
Decrease Text SizeIncrease Text Size
Text Size

Day 12 in 100 words or less

The group stages turned the corner and entered the final stretch on Monday. Suddenly there was a different vibe in the air in Brazil. A wind of caution and a realization that one moment could be the difference in staying or flying home. The game's were more timid but there were still plenty of enormous talking points.

Mexico 3-1 Croatia

Nine months is a long time.

Just ask a pregnant lady.

Yet, apparently, we were told, it wasn't enough to change the fortunes of Mexican soccer.

It was the late summer of 2013 and in a crucial World Cup qualifier, Mexico travelled to Columbus to take on their despised rivals, USA.

The Mexicans needed it more but they were pathetic. Two goals in the second half didn't tell the entire story, the visitors were battered.

The next act has been a story already told many times. Mexico didn't back into Brazil, they lay down on the ground and USA, Graham Zusi in particularly, dragged them there.

They were supposed to still be a shambles, given little chance to progress. Suddenly two games in, they were excellent but the goal had not been accomplished.

It was time for Croatia.

It was time for the Herrera and Herrera show.

Mexico had at least been as good as Brazil over the first two games and on Monday, after all three teams had played each other, it was clear that El Tri were indeed the most in-form team during group play.

The standings didn't reflect that, after all Mexico were denied two goals against Cameroon which cost them the goal difference tie-breaker, but this team defended better than Brazil, countered better and, Cameroon aside, finished better than them, too.

The latter was cemented with three precise finishes on Monday, killing off Niko Kovac's side with an arrogance that had been lacking for too long in Mexican football.

The scenes to follow were in complete contrast to nine months earlier. A disjointed bunch had become a united force. Strike rivals Oribe Peralta and Javier Hernandez embraced, the newly formed brilliant back three high-fived and Paul Aguilar sprinted towards his coach and dived into his arms. Herrera fell immediately on to the floor but he didn't care how it looked. Mexico had turned it around, led by a true midfield maestro in Hector Herrera who did it all.

The World Cup has unearthed some truly wonderful young stars and on a day when captain marvellous Rafa Marquez made history, Herrera's heroics shouldn't go unnoticed. In a group with Paulinho, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, he was, without question, the best midfielder during group A play in Brazil.

Brazil 4-1 Cameroon

Some of it was all too easy to predict. Neymar got his goals, Cameroon's defence was suspect and the scoreline reflected a rout in Brasilia.

And then there was the bit that few saw coming. Three weeks today, this team plans on showing the World Cup to the people of Brazil. In the tournament's first two weeks, they have done nothing to show why they deserve it.

The key sixth man in a formation (in front of a back four and holder) has been important in this tournament and in Paulinho, Brazil have an out-of-sorts player. Luiz Felipe Scolari told anyone willing to listen that he cared little for club form but his loyalty will be tested now with the Spurs man. Fernandinho, who replaced him and scored, is likely to come in for the game against Chile.

There will be no replacing Marcelo and David Luiz, however. The defensive pair may send Thiago Silva to the hospital soon. The PSG defender is a wonderful player but how much longer can he continue to do three jobs?

Fred got his goal, which shouldn't have counted, but remains a problem up front, Oscar and Hulk disappear out of games, too.

World Cup winners have started slower before but the hosts have no more time for mistakes.

Netherlands 2-0 Chile

It is fitting that the finest player, to date, at the counter attacking World Cup, is one of the world's best in transition. Arjen Robben skippered his side to glory on Monday, in a game that just may have huge consequences later in the tournament.

It was a game that requires few words but which leads to many significant storylines heading into the knockout stage. Chile, who look like potential World Champions for parts of two games, never replicated their tempo and pressing that left opponents stunned. It was a pedestrian performance that now hands them Brazil in the last 16.

Brazil. The same opponent who got in their way the last two times they have made it past the group stages. It is a matchup that terrifies Chile and it should based on how they played on Monday without Arturo Vidal. Brazil, too, however, will be terrified. They wanted no part of Chile this early.

The Dutch, meanwhile, march on. Mexico will be tough but is very winnable as is a likely quarterfinal tie against one of Ivory Coast, Greece or Costa Rica. Don't look now but Louis van Gaal's men have suddenly become real contenders.

Spain 3-0 Australia

It had a feeling like a testimonial match. David Villa scored and later left the game in tears as his international career closed. The striker's position in the squad should have been questioned but no one will question his position amongst the greats on this special team. Without him, they would not have been World Champions. The majestic Andres Iniesta got his 100th cap and gave us another glimpse at greatness with a sublime pass for Fernando Torres to score.

There were hugs all around at the final whistle and they will continue into Tuesday when Spain fly home to Madrid. They leave Brazil a broken team, full of superstars of yesterday but the next time they fly to a World Cup you can guarantee they will be one of the favourites once again.

Man of the day


Andres Iniesta - what a pass, what a player. Please give us one more World Cup.

Arjen Robben - amazing to think the once petulant winger is now a mature, all-around star leading his nation.

Rafa Marquez - the captain always finds a way to get in the headlines and his header sent Mexico on their way.

Hector Herrera - he can pass, tackle, run, take set pieces and shoot. Future captain and star for Mexico.

Neymar - the Golden boot could be on for 'Mr Box Office' after a brilliant brace against Cameroon.

The winner

Rafa Marquez - has now scored in three World Cups for Mexico and led their defence brilliantly against Croatia. Maza Rodriguez and Hector Moreno are far better having the captain beside them.

What's next?

Italy vs Uruguay and Costa Rica vs England (Noon/9am). Japan vs Colombia and Greece vs Ivory Coast (4pm/1pm)

Burning question for tomorrow

Can Mario Balotelli produce a consistent performance and be as clinical as his Uruguayan strike opponents?

Stat of Day 12

Neymar scored the tournament's 100th goal when he opened the scoring against Cameroon.

Cabbie on

New York-bred hip hop artist Action Bronson discusses his friendship with Kevin Love, his jumpshot, Mike Napoli's beard, obscure sports references and Derek Jeter's Brand Jordan commercial. More...

He has speed in his DNA, learn more about Olympic champion Donovan Bailey's nephew, Jaden and his success on the gridiron in the latest Powerade 24. More...

© 2014
All rights reserved.
Bell Media Television