A Colombia victory to cement their achievements?

With all the furore over Luis Suarez and the attention that inevitably circulates around Lionel Messi and Neymar, it is all to easy to overlook the achievements of the South and Central American sides in this tournament. Of the ten nations from the two American federations that qualified for these finals, eight have made it through to the last sixteen. Only Honduras and Ecuador have fallen at the first hurdle. Whilst we would all have expected Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay to qualify, the feats of Mexico, Costa Rica, USA, Colombia and Chile have provided us with some of the highlights of this already spectacular world cup.

When the draw was made it appeared that lady luck had deserted the USA. Drawn in a group with Germany, Portugal and Ghana, they were seen as the whipping boys in the one genuine group of death. However, they took advantage of being drawn to play Ghana (on paper their easiest game) in their first match and stunned the African side with an aggressive brand of football that yielded an early three points that proved so vital in a tight group. Their performance against Portugal merited a victory and it was fitting in the end that they qualified at the expense of Cristiano Ronaldo and his team. The USA manager Jurgen Klinsmann has achieved a minor miracle in whipping up public support for ‘soccer.’ The game against Portugal was the most viewed televised match in the country’s history with an estimated audience of 24.7 million. The squad is united under Klinsmann’s passionate approach to management and a second round tie with Belgium is not an insurmountable task.

Chile’s performance in group B was viewed as a surprise by some. However, given the events of the last year it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. Their performance last November in beating England 2-0 at Wembley in distinctly un-South American conditions was highly impressive and marked them down as potential dark horses. They were equally adept in disposing of world champions Spain in their second group match in one of the most committed team displays of the tournament so far. Their squad is young and the players are able to pound every blade of grass relentlessly. Spain and Australia simply could not cope with the energy of the Chilean players. However, a defeat to an under strength Dutch side in the final group game shows that genuinely quality sides can get themselves one step ahead. Brazil in the second round may be too much for Chile.

With a population of just under 4 million, Costa Rica were by far the smallest and lowest ranked nation in Group B. However, they belied their lowly status by catching Uruguay cold in the first match. They followed that up in the second match by completely outhinking the Italians in one of the great tactical displays of the group stages. This was no plucky, lucky underdog story Instead the Ticos were superior to Italy in every area of the pitch. A nil-nil draw with England secured top spot in the group and provided us with one of the great world cup stories of recent times. Can you remember the last time that the fourth seeded team won their group? A last sixteen tie with Greece provides Costa Rica with a great chance of making the quarter finals.

Mexico have been a joy to watch from the word go. in the first match against Cameroon they were denied two first half goals in controversial circumstances yet they maintained their discipline and eventually earned a 1-0 victory. Against Brazil, goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa produced one of the finest displays by a stopper in a world cup finals match. One particular save from a Neymar header drew comparisons with Gordon Banks’ block to deny Pele in 1970 and is undoubtedly the save of the tournament so far. Mexico were far too good for Croatia in the winner takes all final group match and the joy of manager Miguel Herrera as his team scored three second half goals was one of the most priceless images of the tournament. Mexico have been solid in all three of their games, Ivan Perisic’s late consolation goal for Croatia was the only goal Ochoa conceded in the group stages. They have the joint best defensive record in the tournament with Costa Rica thought they will be severely tested by the firepower of the Netherlands in the second round.

Finally, Colombia have been the most impressive of the American outfits so far. Shorn of their best player Radamel Falcao on the eve of the tournament, they have still managed to blow aside all three of their Group C opponents. James Rodriguez and Jackson Martinez have struck up an impressive partnership up front that has seen the pair score five of their team’s nine goals between them. Rodriguez’s goal against Japan in Colombia’s final match was one of the goals of the tournament so far however, the 4-1 victory will be remembered for the wonderful moment when 43 year old goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon was brought on as a substitute and subsequently broke Roger Milla’s record as the oldest player to appear in a world cup match. It was a gesture that epitomised the spirit of the Colombian team at this moment in time. They play Uruguay in the second round. The Uruguayans will be without Luis Suarez who has rightly been hit with a four month worldwide ban for his bite on Giorgio Chiellini. The reaction of the Uruguayan camp in the aftermath of Suarez’s latest indiscretion has been unsavoury at best. The circus surrounding Suarez has unfairly distracted from the achievements of all the South American sides, including Brazil and Argentina. To a man they have shown a commitment to entertaining and virtuoso football (Uruguay excepted) and they have each embodied the spirit of this sensational competition.

It would therefore, be a fitting and poetic moment if Colombia were to dispatch Uruguay in the second round not just for the American teams but for the tournament itself.

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Mexico v Cameroon

Mexico: Ochoa; Rodriguez, Marquez, Moreno, Layun, Aguilar; Guardado, Herrera, Vazquez; Dos Santos, Peralta.
Cameroon: Itandje; Assou-Ekotto, Nkoulou, Mbia, Chedjou; Djeugoue, Enoh Song; Moukandjo, Choupo Moting; Eto’o.

Ref : Wilmar Roldan Perez (Colombia)
Att : 39216

Story of the Match 

  • Oribe Peralta put Mexico in front in Natal with a goal in the 61st minute
  • Giovani dos Santos had early goal for Mexico disallowed due to offside
  • He then had ANOTHER goal disallowed after scoring header from corner
  • Javier Hernandez started on the bench for Mexico

Mexico have beaten Cameroon 1-0 in a rain-drenched Natal but the World Cup match was once again scarred by more refereeing blunders. Mexico enjoyed greater possession, and had to overcome the frustration of two disallowed first-half goals, a stubborn opponent and torrential rain to earn three vital points in Group A.The rain was relentless, descending in thick sheets to turn this city’s glistening new soccer stadium into an overstuffed water park.

Many in the stands did not seem to mind. The crowd was crammed with expectant Mexico supporters, who had traveled to Natal in huge numbers and were percolating in team colors through the city’s beachside pubs and restaurants during the week. Cameroonian midfielder Eyong Enoh said it felt like the game was taking place in Mexico, and the play reflected that. Fans yelled “Olé!” as Mexico tapped the ball around the sodden field. Mexico’s wingbacks, Layún and Paul Aguilar, took advantage of the considerable space Cameroon’s defense conceded to them. In Miguel Herrera’s system, the two essentially become attacking midfielders in transition. Cameroon, save for a brief bright stretch midway through the first half and a few desperate runs in the final minutes, looked toothless.

Cameroon have now lost five #WorldCup games in a row, the longest ever losing streak by an African team. Gloom.

Oribe Peralta grabbed the only goal after 61 minutes but Mexico will consider themselves unlucky not to have been more comfortable winners after Giovani Dos Santos had two goals ruled out for dubious offside decisions in the first-half.

In the 11th minute, the Villarreal player found the target with a sweet, stabbed volley from a cross by Porto’s Hector Herrara but his effort was ruled out for being offside.  On the 30-minute mark, a Dos Santos header from a corner by Miguel Layun was also not allowed to stand. In between, Cameroon skipper Samuel Eto’o had a goal chalked off for offside, although this time the referee made the right decision.

The blunders came just a day after Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura controversially awarded a penalty which set Brazil on their way to a 3-1 win over Croatia.

The one thing to worry about for Mexico is the two blown offside calls. Goal differential could easily be a factor in Group A.

Peralta deservedly put Mexico in front just after the hour mark. Dos Santos’s shot was parried into his path and the Club Santos Laguna striker slotted in from close range.

Cameroon’s Benjamin Moukandjo had a chance to rescue a point in injury time but his header was well-saved by Guillermo Ochoa.

As it Happened.

  • 11′  Kitchen Sink Or Caution?
  • 30′  Dos Santos Penalized Again
  • 45+2  Halftime: Cameroon-Mexico 0-0
  • 61′  The Brush Sweeps Home
  • 71′  Mexico In Command
  • 81′  Chicharito Struts His Stuff
  • 90+4  Full Time

It was the team’s best performance under Herrera, who was named as coach late last year, and a hugely important win for the players, who want to put the embarrassment of their erratic qualification campaign behind them and advance this summer to what their fans often refer to as the World Cup’s “fifth game.” In each of the past five World Cups, the team has been eliminated after four games, in the Round of 16, creating a frustrating pattern.

Mexico will now play host nation Brazil on June 17 in Fortaleza, while Cameroon will travel to Manaus to play Croatia June 18.

Group A Preview, Brazil, Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon.

The host country’s group, by default, will always be the focus, especially when its a nation such as Brazil.

It’s easy to forget that the five-time winners will not be the only ones hoping to qualify from Group A. Croatia, Mexcio and Cameroon, the battle for second place – it would be borderline sacrilegious to even assume that Brazil will not take the top spot – will have a close fight for the second spot in the group. Mexico, while slightly light on talent in comparison to Croatia, would take some beating given their knowledge and experience of the environment and climate. World rankings will count for nothing when bodily fluids are not replenished adequately, hindering performance.

MATCH NO. FIXTURE DATE TIME LOCATION
1 Brazil v. Croatia Jun 13 21:00 Arena Corinthians, Sau Paulo
2 Mexico v. Cameroon Jun 13 17:00 Estadio das Dunas, Natal
17 Brazil v. Mexico Jun 18 20:00 Estadio Castelao, Fortaleza
18 Cameroon v. Croatia Jun 18 23:00 Arena Amazonia, Manaus
33 Croatia v. Mexico Jun 24 21:00 Arena Pernambuco, Recife
34 Cameroon v. Brazil Jun 24 21:00 Estadio Nacional, Brasilia

Of the six group games, four will be played on the east coast in Fortaleza, Natal, Recife and Sau Paulo. Brazil’s final group game will be staged in the capital, Brasilia, while Cameroon will play Croatia in the fantastically-named Arena Amazonia in Manaus.

Stadium Guide

Arena Amazonia, Manaus.

STADIUM (CITY) CAPACITY* ALTITUDE
Arena Corinthians (Sau Paulo) 61,606 792 m
Estadio das Dunas (Natal) 38,958 45 m
Estadio Castelao (Fortaleza) 60,348 Sea-level
Arena Amazonia (Manaus) 39,118 72 m
Arena Pernambuco (Recife) 42,583 Sea-level
Estadio Nacional (Brasilia) 69.432 1,172 m

The warm and humid climate of Brazil has led to European countries employing rather elaborate methods in an attempt to prepare themselves for what lies in store. Manaus, the dreaded Amazonian city, fortunately hosts just a single match for the teams of Group A. However, there will be no lack of climate-related adversity, as Natal, Recife and Fortaleza are all worthy enough to test any athlete’s endurance levels.

Natal has average humidity levels of around 90% in June, rarely falliing below 60%. Recife performs pretty well too when it comes to precipitation – with June and July being the two wettest months – with the city receiving more than 200 days of rainfall on average every year. Fortaleza provides no relief either, with relative humidity ranging from 58% to 94% in June. The capital city of Brasilia and Sau Paulo should be better though, and should provide a welcome respite to the teams.

THE TEAMS

Brazil

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It will be a scandal, bigger than the organising of the World Cup itself, if Brazil fail to win not just the group, but the tournament.

An impressive performance in the 2013 Confederations Cup, where they thumped powerhouse Spain 3-0 in the final, has put a lot of pressure on this young team and the nation expects nothing less than a sixth trophy.
What makes Brazil the favourites is their advantage of playing at home. Qualifying automatically, their form is relatively less known than the other teams taking part.

Their goalkeepers are nothing to shout about, and their forwards, with the exception of Neymar, do not play at the highest competitve level, by which I mean the toughest European leagues. But they have home advantage, and not playing in a top European league may be alright given that no European nation has ever won a World Cup in South America.

Key Player – Neymar

FIFA ranking (as on June 5) – 3

For more information, read Brazil Team Preview.

 

Croatia

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Let’s face it- Croatia are not the best team in the world. In fact, they are 18th. But who wouldn’t want Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic in their mid-field?

After gaining admission into Fifa and Uefa in 1993, Croatia made their first World Cup appearance in 1998, where they claimed a surprise third-place finish as Davor Suker won the Golden Boot. However, the team has not reached the knockout stage in the competition since then. Failure to qualify for the 2010 World Cup was the lowest point for Croatia but the Vatreni are back with a very talented squad.

The Blazers will be looking to forget an overall disappointing performance in the qualifiers in which they lost twice to Scotland, but a balanced team with some extremely talented players will give hope to Croatian fans.

The likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic will definitely be an uphill task for opponents to counter. The sound technical abilities of these three midfield maestros and the presence of star striker Mario Mandzukic, who is a proven goalscorer, will be enough to make the best of defences uneasy. He got sent off in the second leg of the play-off game against Iceland and will be missed against Brazil, as will be Niko Kranjcar, who has been ruled out of the World Cup due to a hamstring injury.

FIFA ranking (as on Jun 5) – 18

Key Player – Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic will be very important but I believe Mario Mandzukic will prove to be the difference.

For more information, read Croatia Team Preview.

Mexico

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The magic number for Mexico proved to be 51 in qualifying. No, they did not end up with 51 points in qualifying – a rather impossible number to achieve. Mexico, in fact, used 51 personnel during qualifying – 47 players and 4 (four) coaches

Having finished fourth behind the US, Costa Rica and Honduras in qualifying, Mexico thumped New Zealand in the play-offs, with striker Oribe Peralta contributing five goals in the 9-3 aggregate hammering.

It was only two years ago that Mexico won the gold medal at the London Olympics, with Peralta scoring two as the Mexicans beat Brazil 2-1 in the final match. But two years is a long time in football. Playing with a 5-3-2 formation, coach Miguel Herrera will be hoping his back-line stands up to the scrutiny and the examination, with Peralta responsible for doing the damage up front. All eyes will be on Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez, who will be looking to silence his critics as his poor form has restricted his playing time in club football. What we can say for sure about Chicharito is his goalscoring ability and killer instincts. Being technically sound and possessing the quick-fire agility to strafe past defenders effortlessly has made Hernandez a guaranteed starter for his country.

Mexico.

FIFA ranking (as on Jun 5) – 20

Key Player – Oribe Peralta

For more information, read Mexico Team Preview.

Cameroon

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Can Eto’o be the 21st century Roger Milla? Can the Indomitable Lions get a point in the group stage and improve on their 2010 performance? No. And No.

After defeating Tunisia in the playoffs and losing just one match to Libya throughout the qualification, Cameroon head to the World Cup having topped their group. From the days of Roger Milla (42), who became the oldest player in history of the tournament to score a goal, to the captaincy of talisman Samuel Eto’o, Cameroon have only achieved a quarter-final finish in 1990.

Considered one of the greatest African nations in the playing field, their recent history has not been up to the standards of the Milla era, as they failed to progress from their group in 1998, 2002 and 2010. But Volker Finke’s men are determined to make amends as the physically intimidating team will be looking to ruthlessly attack their way into the knockout stages.

The climate of Brazil will also make this team of underachievers a bigger threat than their European rivals, but recent poor form has damaged the credibility of Cameroon as a top contender. Alex Song, Jeanll Makoun and Eto’o are the big names that will be looking to put their experience to work.

Cameroon did not qualify for the last two editions of the African Cup of Nations, lost all three group games in South Africa, had their national football federation suspended by FIFA in July 2013 due to “government interference”, and saw their best player and captain accuse his team-mates of conspiring to ensure that the ball was not passed to him during a World Cup qualifier.

FIFA ranking (as on Jun 5) – 56

Key Player – Samuel Eto’o

For more information, read Cameroon Team Preview.

Summary

Brazil will definitely be favourites to go through to the knockout stage with the home crowd advantage and a stellar squad. The lack of performances and depth in the squad of Cameroon and Mexico can prove to be vital as Eto’o and Hernandez will face a mammoth task against their well-equipped opponents. Croatia will be disappointed if they do not finish second as they have some star names in the field to guide them through. But we can definitely expect some fireworks and upsets as all four teams are experienced enough to qualify.

Key Fixture

The outcome of the match between Croatia and Mexico may very well decide the runner-up to Brazil unless Cameroon plan to spoil the party. The two will play their match in the port city of Recife, guaranteeing high humidity. However, the cool ocean breeze and the cloudy weather may bring some relief. On the pitch, we can expect some attacking football laced with more than a tinge of caution.

Croatia’s mid-field will never be more important, and the control of Modric and Rakitic will be essential if they wish to progress. Mexico, on the other hand, will be confident: they have made it the Round of 16 in each of the last five World Cups.

Prediction!

Group A
Country Games Played Points Goal Difference
Brazil 3 9 9
Croatia 3 6 0
Mexico 3 6 -2
Cameroon 3 0 -6

 

Mexico Team Preview

The Players

José de Jesús Corona goalkeeper, Cruz Azul

Francisco Rodríguez defender, Club América

Carlos Salcido defender, Tigres UANL

Rafael Márquez (captain) defender, León

Diego Reyes defender, Porto

Héctor Herrera midfielder, Porto

Miguel Layún defender, América

Marco Fabián midfielder, Cruz Azul

Raúl Jiménez forward, América

10 Giovani dos Santos forward, Villarreal

11 Alan Pulido forward, Tigres UANL

12 Alfredo Talavera goalkeeper, Toluca

13 Guillermo Ochoa goalkeeper, Ajaccio

14 Javier Hernández forward, Manchester United

15 Héctor Moreno defender, Espanyol

16 Miguel Ángel Ponce defender, Toluca

17 Isaác Brizuela midfielder, Toluca

18 Andrés Guardado defender, Bayer Leverkusen

19 Oribe Peralta forward, Santos Laguna

20 Javier Aquino midfielder, Villarreal

21 Carlos Peña midfielder, León

22 Paul Aguilar defender, América

23 José Juan Vázquez midfielder, León

Star man

Oribe Peralta, of América in his homeland, has scored 10 times in his past 10 outings for El Tri. He weighed in with five of Mexico’s goals in the 9-3 aggregate play-off victory over New Zealand that booked their ticket to Brazil. The hosts will not look forward to meeting up with the 30-year-old striker again: Peralta’s two goals won the 2012 Olympic final for Mexico, and ensured Brazil still have a five-ring-shaped hole on their CV.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace…
Tensions between European and home-based players may cause friction in the camp so take your pick as to which one of the big names will throw their toys out of the pram first, especially if they’re not being selected.
Carlos Vela, whose continued refusal to accept a call-up severely weakens a squad not blessed with quality. The 25-year-old, formerly of Arsenal, has been in form for Real Sociedad, to the point where Liverpool are now sniffing around. “He’d be no use to us anyway because he’s not focused on the job,” sniffs coach Miguel Herrera.

The coach

Miguel Herrera took over in October following the disastrous qualifying campaign where, at one stage, they went through three managers in three games. Herrera eased his way into the job with a 9-3 aggregate win over New Zealand.

Grudge match

Mexico have the historical upper hand over neighbours the United States, though the balance of power has been shifting in recent years, with the US beginning to take soccer more seriously. USA won the only match between the two sides at a World Cup finals, a 2-0 success in 2002, and Mexico still have not quite got over it.

Holed up

Mexico will pitch camp in Santos, in the south of Brazil. They had better soak up plenty of that old Pelé energy, for all of their group games are taking place in the north-east.

How they qualified
Needed a play-off win over New Zealand to reach the finals after a shambolic campaign where they won only twice in 10 games in their group, missing out on an automatic passage to Brazil.

World Cup high
Hosting the World Cup in 1970 and 1986 was pretty special but Fernando Quirarte’s header in their opening game in Azteca in ’86 unleashed an outpouring of emotion from a country still coming to terms with the previous year’s earthquake which caused the deaths of over 10,000 people. His celebration tells the whole story.

World Cup low
Defeat on penalties to West Germany in the quarter-final in ’86. Those damn Germans and their penalties.

Familiar faces
Javier Hernández (Manchester United).

Title odds: 100/1

The stereotype is…
Lightning quick, highly volatile football. Plenty of spectacular goals and sendings off.

The reality is…
They would like to live up to their reputation – they just may not be good enough. Still, you can always kick people.

What they’re known for
Tequila 30 per cent
The Three Amigos 45 per cent
Ponchos 12 per cent
Tacos 8 per cent
Mariachi bands 5 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
Fatherland! Fatherland! Your children swear to you to breathe their last for your sake, if the bugle with its bellicose accent calls them together to battle with courage.

How long does it last?
A short, sharp and sweet 90 seconds.

How to dress like their fans

South_Africa_Soccer_WCup_France_Mexico_t400
For men: sombreros, face-paint, Mexican wrestling masks. For women: often not an awful lot.

Commentator’s go-to stat
Mexico have qualified for every World Cup since 1982, except for 1990 when they were banned. They went through four managers just to get to Brazil.