It was again more arduous than an expectant public would have anticipated or wanted, but Brazil eventually made sure of their passage to the last 16 of their home World Cup with something to spare thanks to a Neymar-inspired 4-1 win over Cameroon.
Needing a point to be sure of progress, for the third game in succession Brazil’s first-half performance came considerably short of a performance suggesting that they were primed to lift the trophy next month. And it was left to their poster-boy to again lift them out of troubled waters. Neymar had put his side in front in the country’s capital Brasilia after 17 minutes. At that point Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men might have been expected to go on and win at a canter against a Cameroon team who had already been eliminated following two convincing defeats. Instead their opponents struck back less than 10 minutes later with an equalizer from Joel Matip.
With Brazil continuing to look vulnerable, it was left to Barcelona starlet Neymar to restore order. His direct run and low finish to capitalize on a defense breakdown 11 minutes before half-time was incredibly his 35th goal for his country at the age of just 22. The introduction of Fernandinho for the again disappointing Paulinho at half-time gave Brazil more assurance and the Manchester City midfielder played a part in Fred’s first goal of the World Cup just after the interval. The win now in the bag, a more secure second-half showing was finished by Fernandinho netting a fourth goal late on.
The victory means that for the second consecutive World Cup, Brazil will now meet fellow South Americans Chile in the round of 16. Four years ago in South Africa, Brazil prevailed with something to spare, 3-0. Such a result is hard to envisage this time around unless the hosts continue the improvement they began to display after the interval.
One can only imagine how a dynamic Chile side would exploit Brazil in transition on the evidence of their display in the first 45 minutes in Brasilia. It was a frantic beginning to the match and surely far too open for Scolari’s liking. Back from injury, Hulk’s direct running down the right caused early problems and his pull-back saw Paulinho have a shot blocked. But at the other end Marcelo was forced to make a similarly desperate goal-saving effort to stop Eyong Enoh’s effort finding the net.
Cameroonian errors, which have blighted Volker Finke’s side throughout their short stay at this World Cup, proved their undoing once more to help Brazil take the lead. Luiz Gustavo stole the ball down the left and marauded forward before putting in a good low cross that found Neymar completely unmarked in the center of the box to guide a shot skillfully past Charles Itandje in the Cameroon goal.
But Brazil’s defending was equally insecure. Captain Thiago Silva had just headed onto his own bar when from the resulting corner Cameroon put a twist in the script. Allan Nyom was fortunate to beat Dani Alves down the right, and, with the defenders in the middle caught ball watching, the right-back’s cross found center-back Matip at the back post to turn in.
At that point, with Mexico and Croatia drawing in the other game, Brazil were staring at the unthinkable scenario that another goal would send them crashing out. Up step Neymar. Nyom’s earlier good work was undone by an errant defensive header, allowing Neymar to take up possession and drive toward the edge of the box before delightfully wrong-footing Itandje, who committed himself far too early.
Much of Brazil’s problems have been down to the inability of their midfield to control the flow of the game, with the struggles of Paulinho a key part of that. At the interval, Scolari called for the more solid Fernandinho and he did enough to suggest that a place against Chile could well be his. The former Shakhtar Donetsk man’s first contribution was in an attacking sense to give Brazil a much-needed buffer on the score sheet. It was he who kept the ball alive following a corner to find David Luiz on the left flank. The defender’s cross found Fred unmarked and offside at the back post, but the flag remained down to allow the Fluminense man to ease some of the pressure on his shoulders with a simple header.
With the more defensively minded Ramires and Willian coming on to replace Hulk and Neymar, Brazil were more assured in denying Cameroon opportunities to attack in the second half. And Brazil still had enough about them in an attacking sense for Fernandinho to poke home with six minutes remaining.