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Brazil defeats Cameroon to seal top spot in Group A
Host will now take on Chile in last 16 on Saturday
Mexico defeats Croatia 3-1 to claim second place
Mexico faces Netherlands in knockout phase
Was there ever any doubt?
When it mattered most, the man which this Brazilian team’s quest may depend on, delivered once again.
Neymar, the face of this World Cup, scored his fourth goal in three games to book his country a date with destiny and Chile in Belo Horizonte on Saturday.
The 22-year-old, for so long hailed as the savior of Brazilian football, has not disappointed at a time where the likes of Portugal’s World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo have flattered to deceive.
While Lionel Messi has rescued Argentina, Neymar’s 35th goal in 52 international appearances gives an insight into how crucial his role is likely to be in the next few weeks should Brazil go all the way.
His two goals and further strikes from the much maligned Fred and substitute Fernandinho ensured Brazil claimed a 4-1 win over Cameroon and secured top spot in Group A.
Mexico, which defeated Croatia 3-1, took second place and will now face the Netherlands in Fortaleza on Sunday.
But the night belonged to Neymar – the man who scored the 100th goal of this tournament in his country’s 100th match World Cup match.
Brazil will need its talisman to provide his magic once again when it meets Chile, a team which it knocked out of the tournament four years ago in South Africa.
Jorge Sampaoli’s men will represent a far more difficult proposition than a Cameroon side which briefly threatened to cause embarrassment by drawing level at 1-1.
But Neymar, having already netted the opener, then took charge by scoring his side’s second and guiding Brazil home.
Cameroon, thrashed 4-0 in its previous game by Croatia and already out of the tournament, was hardly supposed to represent the most difficult of challenges.
Leading through Neymar’s 17th minute strike, Brazil allowed Cameroon back into the contest as its cumbersome defending was once again exposed.
Just minutes after Joel Matip’s header had been deflected onto the crossbar, Cameroon leveled to silence those packed inside the Arena Pernambuco.
Allan Nyom escaped down the right and after beating the non-existent challenge of Dani Alves, crossed for Matip to tap home from close range.
Suddenly, from a carnival of color and celebration, a dark cloud hung over Brazil’s World Cup dream.
But any negativity was soon washed away by a rampant yellow swagger which ripped through the very heart of the Cameroon defense.
Neymar, the chief tormentor, was afforded far too much room and after leading the defenders a samba-like dance, he unleashed a fine effort which wrongfooted the goalkeeper.
Suddenly Brazil was rampant. Neymar threatened a third when his powerful effort was tipped away by Charles Itandje, while Hulk failed to hit the target after a wonderful flowing move.
The interval offered little respite for Cameroon and within five minutes it fell further behind when the previously luckless Fred converted David Luiz’s cross to net his first goal of the tournament.
Fernandinho, the Manchester City midfielder, added a fourth with six minutes remaining to ensure Brazil finished top on goal difference from Mexico.
“Maybe we tried to hurry things a bit too much early on, when we scored our first goal and let anxiety get to us,” Brazil’s coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said after the match.
“We need to show more calm and composure. Fortunately we ironed out some flaws at half-time and after the break we used the ball better again.”
El Tri had threatened to usurp the host nation at the top of the table after putting Croatia to the sword in Recife.
After a goalless first half, Rafael Marquez, the first man to captain his country at four World Cups, headed Mexico in front with 18 minutes remaining.
Andres Guardado rounded off a slick counter attack soon after to double his side’s advantage before Manchester United star Javier Hernandez added a third.
It was a just reward for Mexico, which hit the crossbar in the first half and was denied what appeared to be a blatant penalty with the game still goalless.
“(We’ll) have a few more great days yet,” Miguel Herrera, the Mexico manager said. “There is still room for improvement. We stayed calm and maintained our focus, that was the key to success.”
Croatia, which could have qualified with a victory, pulled a goal back through Ivan Perisic but was then reduced to 10 men when Ante Rebic was sent off.
Mexico will now face a Dutch side which won all three of its group games and reached the final in South Africa four years ago.