Mexico 3, Croatia 1
by Dave Zeitlin
Mexico are moving on, and they’re doing so in style.
After struggling to score throughout the World Cup, El Tri broke out for three goals in a 10-minute span in the second half to top Croatia 3-1 at Arena Pernambuco in Recife on Monday and book a spot in the knockout round with a second-place finish in Group A.
Mexico, who beat Cameroon and earned a scoreless draw with Group A winner Brazil in their first two group-stage matches, move on to play Group B winner Netherlands in the Round of 16 on Sunday.
THE OLD MAN AND THE ‘C’: With Mexico struggling to catch any breaks, it was 35-year-old captain Rafael Marquez who came through in the clutch. Marquez, the former New York Red Bulls defender, opened the floodgates for Mexico in the 72nd minute when he rose above everyone to head home a Hector Herrera corner for his third career World Cup goal.
SEÑOR CAPITAN. pic.twitter.com/qcb4cpfC7g— ESPN (@espn) June 23, 2014
CONCACAF CELEBRATION : Mexico continued to pile on the goals from there and celebrated them all in style. After Andres Guardado scored his first World Cup goal in the 75th minute, Mexico head coach Miguel Herrera enjoyed the moment with goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa as El Tri became the second CONCACAF team to advance to the knockout round (following Costa Rica). Can the US continue the trend?
Herrera slowmo is magnificent. https://t.co/IX0IfsmSkp— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) June 23, 2014
CHICHARITO’S EXCLAMATION MARK : Just for good measure, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez added the third goal for Mexico, scoring on a header off a flick from Marquez. One of Mexico’s most well-known players, Hernandez has been coming off the bench during this World Cup and did so again for Herrera on Monday – this time to very good results.
SHUTOUT STREAK ENDS: Just when it looked like Mexico would escape the group stage without giving up a goal, Croatia’s Ivan Perisic scored in the 87th minute after a nice backheel pass from Ivan Rakitic. For the game, Ochoa only finished with one save but defender Hector Moreno had a clearance right at the backline late in the contest to temporarily preserve the shutout.
KNOCKING ON THE DOOR: Although Mexico were the less desperate side, they were the ones who very nearly broke through a couple of times early in Monday’s game. In the 16th minute, after a nifty give-and-go with Oribe Peralta, Herrera hit a great shot from distance that smashed off where the post and crossbar intersects. And just three minutes later, Herrera played a terrific through ball to Peralta, who lost his footing as he tried to take what should have been a clear shot on net.
NO PENALTY FOR YOU: Mexico was again the more dangerous side early in the second half but did not get any favors from the ref. In the 64th minute, a penalty was not called on Croatia’s Darijo Srna, even though replays showed Guardado’s shot clearly hit off his hand in the box.
Maybe not the Hand of God, but definitely the hand of some minor lake deity or something.— Brian Phillips (@runofplay) June 23, 2014
MAN OF THE MATCH: Marquez, Mexico. Not only did the captain anchor the backline to another stellar performance, he keyed the attack with a goal and an assist.
Brazil 4, Cameroon 1
by Steve Brisendine
Brazil are on to the next round, as expected, after closing out Group A play with a 4-1 victory over Cameroon on Monday in Brasilia behind Neymar's first-half brace. And they will go through as group champions, despite some late concerns over goal differential, to meet Group B runners-up Chile in the Round of 16.
NEYMAR I: Luiz Gustavo's cross from the left flank was a thing of beauty, splitting the defense and finding Neymar in space, and Brazil's star made his finish look deceptively simple. Neymar opened his body, made one touch with the inside of his right foot and directed the ball into the lower right corner of the goal to put the hosts up 1-0 in the 17th.
INDOMITABLE CROSS: Nine minutes after that, a determined effort from the left corner helped the Indomitable Lions equalize. Dani Alves blocked Allan Nyom's first attempt to cross, but Nyom stayed with the play and sent the ball back in again. Defender Joel Matip, unmarked within two yards, was waiting for it near the far post for the easy tap-in – and the first goal conceded by Brazil in Brasilia since 1987.
NEYMAR II: If his first goal showed off his clinical side, Neymar's second showed his creativity in making and exploiting space. In the 34th minute, he took a pass from Marcelo, cut right into the center of the pitch, and drove his shot home through traffic to make it 2-1.
NO FLAG FOR FRED: Fred, who drew a hotly debated penalty in Brazil's 3-1 opening win against Croatia, finally opened his scoring account in the 49th minute – but again, not without controversy. He looked to be slightly offside when David Luiz's cross was played in, but the flag stayed down and Fred nodded the ball down and in for a 3-1 lead.
FERNANDINHO LOCKS IT UP: Things were getting a bit tense for Brazil in the closing minutes, after Mexico went up 3-0 on Croatia in the other group-stage finale. One more goal for El Tri at that point, or another for Cameroon, would have dropped Brazil to second place and matched them against the Netherlands in the round of 16. Halftime sub Fernandinho toe-poked home an insurance score in the 84th minute, though, securing the top of the group for the Cup hosts.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Neymar, F, Brazil. He got good service from the guys around him, and he didn't waste it. Neymar took just four shots in his 71-minute shift, putting all four on frame and netting twice. It was pretty at times, efficient all the time..
The Netherlands 2, Chile 0
by Benjamin Baer
The Netherlands wrapped up a perfect run through Group B by dispatching upstart Chile 2-0 on goals by second-half subs Leroy Fer and Memphis Depay.
Chile, who needed a win to leap over the Dutch and finish atop the group and likely avoid a match-up against Brazil, pushed the game from the start. But the Netherlands sat back, conceded possession, defended as a unit and then exposed the Chileans' weaknesses on set pieces (75' header goal by Fer) and on the counter (92nd minute goal by Depay).
Both teams will need to wait for results from Group A to find out their opponents in the Round of 16.
CHILEAN ACHILLES: Chile are the shortest team at this World Cup and Fer took full advantage in the 77th minute on a corner kick, scoring his first international goal just 90 seconds after entering the match.
90 - Leroy Fer scored 90 seconds after coming on, the fastest goal by a sub at this World Cup. Super. #NED— OptaJean (@OptaJean) June 23, 2014
BOTHERING ALEXIS: Alexis Sanchez has been one of the most electrifying players in the tournament so far and Dutch manager Louis van Gaal knew it. The Dutch had a strategy to frustrate Sanchez by fouling him consistently throughout the game -- a total of nine times.
FEW CHANCES: The first half was not one of the most memorable of this World Cup. After the two sides dazzled the world in their opening two matches, they combined for zero shots on target and 20 fouls. The Netherlands, who completed just two passes in the final third, had the best chances of the half: Stefan de Vrij's set piece opportunity (35th minute) and a weaving run by Arjen Robben that finished with a wide shot (40th minute).
27% - The Netherlands had just 27% possession in the first half but attempted more shots than Chile (5-3). Plan.— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) June 23, 2014
STARS MISSING: Two of the biggest names at this World Cup were absent for the match. Chilean Arturo Vidal, who was coming off an injury entering the tournament, was given some time to rest his knee after playing in 148 minutes through the first two games. Robin van Persie, one of the top scorers at the World Cup, was forced to sit due to yellow card accumulation.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Ron Vlaar, defender, Netherlands. Marshalled a strong five-man backline for the Dutch, who comfortably held off all Chilean advances through the middle.
Spain 3, Australia 0
by Nate Sulat
Too little, too late, but Spain showed at last that their vaunted attack isn’t quite dead yet. Thanks to goals from New York City FC striker David Villa, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata, La Furia Roja finished their World Cup with a 3-0 victory against Australia after losing their first two games by a combined score of 7-1.
Deprived of top goalscorer Tim Cahill due to a yellow-card suspension, the sputtering Australian attack couldn’t prevent the Socceroos from finishing the tournament at the bottom of their group with three losses, while Spain avoided becoming the first reigning champions in World Cup history to lose every game of their title defense.
SECOND GUESSING: Through two games, Spain started Diego Costa as their lone striker in a 4-2-3-1. They got stomped. On Monday, they came out in a 4-3-3 and an almost entirely different lineup, with Costa sitting in favor of Torres and Villa. Both of them scored. It’s perhaps not entirely inappropriate to question whether head coach Vicente del Bosque couldn’t have made some of these changes earlier.
PASSING OFF: Spain’s usual midfield playmaker, Xavi, sat out what might have been his last opportunity to play for his country on Monday, ceding his role to younger FC Barcelona teammate, Andrés Iniesta. Movement through the midfield was much more dynamic, and Iniesta showed his quality with two super through-balls to assist on Spain’s first two goals.
Spain leads Australia 1-0 at the half. Here's a look at the 14-pass build-up to David Villa's 1st-half goal: pic.twitter.com/LMEOlNSooE— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 23, 2014
RETREAT, AUSTRALIA FAIR: The Socceroos came out swinging on Monday, holding most of the early possession and looking totally unafraid of the reigning World Champions. Very little of that possession was in Spain’s half, though, and as the game went on it became more and more apparent that Australia didn’t have the personnel to really threaten goal. Passing accuracy in the final third was less than 50 percent, and all of their shots came from outside the area. None were on target.
ADIEUS: This result concludes the World Cup campaigns of both Spain and Australia. We wish them both farewell.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Andrés Iniesta, Spain – The Barcelona playmaker has still got it. Both goals he assisted on were well-taken – particularly Villa’s classy backheel – but they were set up by sparkling service from Iniesta.