BRASÍLIA, June 23: Stuttering Brazil will look to clinch their berth in the last 16 of the World Cup as they host already-eliminated Cameroon in their final Group A match at the National Stadium in the capital Brasilia on Monday.
Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side have beaten Croatia and drawn with Mexico in their two games to date, struggling to convince in either match, but both the coach and his players have claimed in recent days that the World Cup hosts are “evolving” as the tournament goes along.
Brazil head into their final group game — their 100th at the World Cup — still not certain of a place in the knockout rounds, but goalkeeper Julio Cesar insisted during the week that the quality of opposition they have come up against so far has helped the Selecao. “This is a tough group, but that’s great for us. We prefer to play against these sides and face these difficulties because it gets you focusing right from the start, which is important in short-term competitions,” he said.
The pressure on Brazil to do well at these finals is enormous, but Scolari’s team need not panic about their situation in the group. They lead the group on goal difference from Mexico, and a draw will be enough to take them through to a second-round clash with either Chile or the Netherlands.
Indeed, they would still progress even in defeat, as long as Mexico beat Croatia in the group’s other game, due to be played at the same time in Recife. In any case, the prospect of Brazil losing to a Cameroon side in complete disarray seems slim in the extreme.
Volker Finke’s men have already failed in their attempts to become the first Cameroon team to advance from their group since 1990, and their campaign has been beset by trouble since the very beginning. A row over bonuses overshadowed their build-up to the finals, and they became one of the first teams to be eliminated after following up a 1-0 defeat to Mexico by losing 4-0 to Croatia in Manaus last Wednesday.
While Samuel Eto’o struggles due to a knee injury — he has not trained since the Mexico game — Finke saw Alex Song’s tournament come to a premature end after he was sent off for a needless elbow in the back of Mario Mandzukic against Croatia, before left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto head-butted team-mate Benjamin Moukandjo on the pitch near the end of the game.
“We will need to talk to certain players. The behaviour of some of them was not at all satisfying. It’s unacceptable to see that kind of thing,” bemoaned coach Finke. Of his team’s performances he said: “We have already analysed the first two games and worked well with the players. There have been some situations where we have lacked concentration and we also lacked a finishing touch against Croatia but we can do better against Brazil.”
Despite the problems, Brazil are wary of Cameroon for what will be the nations’ first competitive encounter since the Indomitable Lions stunned the then world champions 1-0 in the 2003 Confederations Cup in France. “Cameroon are coming without any responsibility but they will still be playing for pride and looking for a reaction after the first two games,” said Brazil defender David Luiz.
“Their pride has been hurt and they will be looking to beat Brazil because it would be like winning the World Cup for them,” he added. “Our objective is to get through the group and get through in first place.” For Brazil, powerful forward Hulk, who had suffered a hamstring problem in training ahead of the Mexico clash, looks set to earn a recall in place of Ramires.
The latter is one of four players currently just one booking away from picking up a suspension that would rule them out of a potential tie in the next round, along with the influential trio of captain Thiago Silva, holding midfielder Luiz Gustavo and Neymar.