By DAN KARELL
After a win and a draw in their first two games, Mexico attempt to achieve the improbable when they take the field on Monday against Croatia. (4 p.m. ESPN)
Few, even in Mexico, gave El Tri a chance of getting out of Group A and advancing to the knockout rounds, but now Miguel Herrera’s side are on the verge of not only advancing but also possibly winning the group. In the heat of Recife, it will be important for both Mexico and Croatia to fight to hold onto possession, and Mexico will need another world class display from goalkeeper Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa.
On the other side, Croatia is coming off a confidence boosting rout of Cameroon and believe that their midfield trio consisting of Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric, and Mateo Kovacic can dominate any opponent. Forward Mario Mandzikic will also be matched up against Rafa Marquez, pitting two physical players against one another in the box.
Winning all three points in this match is valuable for either nation to advance out of Group A, but the two teams advancing will be challenged immediately by either Chile or the Netherlands, who also play on Monday to determine first and second place in Group B.
Here are some more notes on today’s World Cup slate:
BRAZIL vs. CHILE
The World Cup hosts head into the final game of the group stage needing a win at the very least to ensure that they advance from the competition.
Brazil host Cameroon in Brazil’s capital of Brasilia at the beautiful and expensive Estádio Nacional (4 p.m. ESPN2), with a date against either Chile or the Netherlands on the horizon. Brazil failed to break down Mexico in their last game but will see the return of Hulk to the lineup after he suffered a thigh strain.
It will be important for both David Luiz and Thiago Silva to play diagonal balls from the back to both Hulk and Neymar, and Fred will need to be more involved than he has been in the first two matches.
Cameroon are coming off a demoralizing defeat to Croatia and will be without midfielder Alex Song, who was handed a three-match ban by FIFA. The African nation will be playing for pride to bring home after a disappointing showing.
NETHERLANDS vs. CHILE
After two incredible impressive performances in their opening matches, the Netherlands and Chile will meet to determine who wins Group B (12 p.m. ESPN).
Both nation’s head coaches are resting some of their top players, as Arturo Vidal and Jorge Valdivia sit for Chile and Bruno Martins Indi and Jonathan De Guzman move to the bench for the Netherlands. Robin Van Persie will also miss out on Monday due to yellow card accumulation.
Despite the absences, there are still plenty of reasons to watch this game. Both teams will have license to attack at will and as we saw with Holland in the first two games, when Arjen Robben is given a chance in front of goal, he finishes more often than not. It will also be interesting to see how the Netherlands adapts to Chile’s high-pressure in-your-face style.
AUSTRALIA vs. SPAIN
Spain will say adios to the World Cup today when they face Australia at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba.
Spain head coach Vicente Del Bosque has picked a changed side with the exception of Andres Iniesta, who will win his 100th cap for La Furia Roja, while goalkeeper Pepe Reina and midfielder Koke will make their World Cup debuts today. Fernando Torres returns up top and David Villa is back in the starting lineup, in what will be his final action before embarking on a loan spell in Melbourne City beginning this October.
Australia are without captain Tim Cahill due to suspension and though they fought valiantly, their campaign will come to a close against the defending World Cup champions. Mathew Leckie, Tommy Oar, and Mile Jedinak have all impressed during the tournament and should cause Spain some issues on the counter attack, if they can spring it fast enough.
What do you think of today’s World Cup slate? Do you think Mexico has what it takes to defeat Croatia? Do you see Brazil winning the group? What do you expect from Chile and the Netherlands?
Share your thoughts below.