Brasilia, Jun 24 : Powered by the genius of star striker Neymar and egged on by a roaring sea of yellow, Brazil sailed into the pre-quarterfinals with a 4-1 demolition of Cameroon while Mexico hammered Croatia 3-1 to also make the last-16 of the FIFA World Cup. Neymar once again proved to be the chief architect of Brazil’s victory, scoring twice in their crucial last Group A fixture here.
In doing so, the 22-year-old striker delivered yet another reminder of just how much the hopes of the football-crazy nation depends on his young shoulders.
Neymar struck in the 17th and 34th minute while Fred and substitute Fernandinho found the net once each, in the 49th and 84th minute respectively, setting up a last 16 clash with Chile, who finished second in the Group B after losing their last preliminary clash against the Netherlands. For Cameroon, Matip had equalised in the 26th minute but that was only for eight minutes before Brazil again surged ahead.
In Recife, a draw was enough for Mexico to go through but a 10-minute blitz from 72nd to 82nd minute saw them fire home thrice with their inspirational skipper Rafael Marquez breaking the deadlock in the 72nd minute. Andres Guardado scored within another three minutes before Javier Hernandez rounded off the tally in the 82nd minute. Ivan Perisic got a consolation goal for Croatia at the fag end of the match. Mexico will now face the Netherlands, who topped Group B by remaining unbeaten.
However, the Brazil-Cameroon clash was the most awaited for the fans here and as the day passed, the red seats at the Estadio Nacional turned yellow with the home team supporters trooping into the stadium in huge numbers. Considering the favourites tag with which they had entered the tournament, it was a die or do situation for the hosts and for a while, when Matip equalised in the 26th minute, it looked like Cameroon might spoil the party. But that was not to be as Neymar reasserted his supremacy one more time with a fine low shot past Charles Itandje in the Cameroon goal.
Neymar’s first goal of the match, in what was Brazil’s 100th Cup game and this edition’s 100th goal, came when he deftly guided the ball into the far corner of the net after being fed by Luiz Gustavo’s perfect low cross from the left. The home fans were stunned soon as Matip sidefooted one into an empty net, thanks to a defensive lapse by Dani Alves who was easily beaten by Allan Nyom. In between, barely a few minutes after his first strike, Neymar had a powerful attempt parried away by the Cameroon custodian. The goal they conceded might have exposed the chinks in Brazil’s armour at the back, but the hosts neutralised it to an extent by scoring two more after the change of ends.
Hulk, Fred and Neymar each one of them had a shot at goal but could not find the back of the net. But it was only a matter of time before Brazil opened the floodgates. Heavily criticised for his wretched showing in the 3-1 win over Croatia and goalless draw with Mexico, Fred finally found his name on the scoresheet when he headed in a David Luiz cross from the left wing position. There was a hint of doubt on whether Fred was in offside position but the referee thought otherwise.
With Brazil 3-1 ahead, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari replaced Neymar with Willian in th 71st minute, avoiding the possibility of a yellow card that would have kept the prodigy out of the round of 16 game. Neymar came off to a rapturous reception before Fernandinho glided one past the Cameroon goalie six minutes before time . Mexico also turned on the style after a sluggish start against Croatia, who were reduced to 10 men when replacement forward Ante Rebic was sent off just before the final whistle after his reckless tackle on Carlos Pena.
Mexican goalkeeper Ochoa, who had garnered admiration for his spirited show against Brazil in an earlier group match, was once again a standout performer stopping everything that was thrown at him by the Croatians.