Brazil have taken top spot in Group A with their opening day win against Croatia. Two goals from Neymar and a strike from Oscar won the game in controversial circumstances. Brazil started the brighter of the sides, but Croatia shocked the home crowd and scored the opener with an Ivica Olic cross from the wing being turned in to his own net by Marcelo. Brazil equalised on 19 minutes as Neymar took advantage of space outside the Croatian box to hit a shot in the bottom corner beyond the reach of keeper Stipe Pletikosa. After the break Croatia put pressure on Brazil but couldn’t make a breakthrough. Against the run of play, Brazil earned a penalty as Fred was pulled down in the box under a weak challenge from Croatia’s Dejan Lovren. Neymar converted the resulting penalty and put them into the lead. Croatia pushed for an equaliser for the remainder of the game but Brazil broke in injury time and through man of the match Oscar sealed a 3-1 victory.
Mexico took second place in the group yesterday with a 1-0 win over Cameroon. Mexico had two goals chalked off in the first half for questionable offside decisions, but couldn’t find a way through the packed Cameroon defense until Oribe Peralta put them ahead on 61 minutes after smashing home the rebound from Giovani Dos Santos’ strike. The Mexicans couldn’t further their lead, and Cameroon came close to an equaliser through their captain Samuel Eto’o near full time, but Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa saved his effort. Mexico saw off the game and set themselves on course for their first ever second round appearance outside of their own country.
The next fixtures in the group are Brazil v Mexico on Tuesday (8pm, BBC) and Cameroon v Croatia on Wednesday (11pm, ITV). A win for either team in the Brazil v Mexico game will almost certainly guarantee qualification, and it could be a close encounter – with both sides showing attacking flair and Brazil being below their expected level while Mexico exceeded theirs. Cameroon may be the most likely to leave Group A empty handed, facing a strong Croatia side looking to bounce back from an undeserved defeat against Brazil. Should Croatia win, it will set up a clash against Mexico for second place in the group, which would be an interesting encounter given the teams’ performances. Cameroon earning a result against Croatia would be a shock, given their defensive display against Mexico and their relative inability to convert chances.
So far Group A is going with form, with hosts and tournament favourites Brazil most likely to qualify perhaps followed by Croatia. But we have learned that Brazil are far from infallible, and the runners-up spot may well be contested by a Mexican side that can score goals.