With the first two games played in Group A, it’s advantage Latin America.
To say the Amazon climate would benefit the West Africans is something of a cliche, as most of the Cameroon players are based in the Europe.
The opening two games at Brazil 2014 were not without controversy though.
In the opening game of the tournament, the soft penalty awarded to Brazil was hard on Croatia while Cameroon can thank the Colombian linesman for keeping their scoreline down; it should have been three.
These World Cup matches are so important that to let just one person with a flag or whistle be the all-deciding judge sometimes makes a mokery of the technology available to help judicate close calls in a fast-moving game.
If only football fans could be allowed to discuss the performance of players rather than the incompetence of officials.
Even without home advantage, Brazil would be expected to cruise past Cameroon, Croatia and Mexico in Group A.
While many will be looking to Neymar and Oscar to produce the goods for the hosts, Fred and Paulinho may be the ones who call the shots in the final third.
If all four are on fire, that’s a lot for the opposition to deal with; without the added threats of Dani Alves and Marcello raiding down the flanks from deep.
There may be some doubts if Julio Cesar is chosen to guard the goal behind Brazil’s central defenders, but if you score more goals than the oposition, victory is assured.
Cameroon had their best World Cup in Italia 90, when Roger Milla helped them make it to extra-time in the Naples quarter-final against England. This time out, Samuel Eto’o will be trying to show the world that an older striker can still offer an enthusiastic team a goal threat up front; although Jean Makoun may be the real player to watch.
Croatia set the world alight at France 98, when they finished third and Davor Suker was bagging the goals. With Mario Mandzukic suspended for the opening game against Brazil, Croatia may not get off to the best of starts against Brazil.
If Cameroon and Croatia share the points in the humidity of Manaus, a lot will then come down to how they deal with Mexico in the north-eastern venues of Natal and Recife.
Mexico meet Cameroon first, in Natal. Mexico will need to get off to a winning start, before meeting the hosts in Fortaleza, if they hope to reach the last 16 for the sixth time in succession.
Croatia vs Spain
Municipal Stadium, Gdansk.
The game started with a brisk tempo, Spain trying to get off to a good start; moving the ball around comfortably and breaking down the left.
Nothing much developed after that though, Croatia content to soak up the pressure and just holding Spain at arm’s length.
If Croatia were to knick a goal late in the second-half, and Italy didn’t conceed an equaliser, Spain would be out.
Croatia 0 – Spain 0 in Gdansk.
Italy 1 – Republic of Ireland 0 in Poznan.
Croatia started the second-half a little more positively; Spain in all sorts of problems before the hour was out.
Iker Casillas made a save from Ivan Rakitic look a little more spectacular than it really was, but it was a chance missed for Croatia.
Croatia 0 – Spain 1
Spain eventually cracked the Croatian nut, two minutes from time. With Croatia in need of a goal, they left a hole at the back. Cesc Fàbregas chipped the ball forward, to Iniesta who took it on the chest and laid off square to Jesús Navas. Stipe Pletikosa was stranded between them flailing his arms; whether to distract the players or appeal for offside…. but all in vain.
Croatia were dropped with a sucker punch just before the bell.
Croatia 0 – Spain 1 in Gdansk.
Italy 2 – Republic of Ireland 0 in Poznan.
1-Stipe Pletikosa; 13-Gordon Schildenfeld, 5-Vedran Corluka, 2-Ivan Strinic, 21-Domagoj Vida; 7-Ivan Rakitic, 8-Ognjen Vukojevic, 6-Danijel Pranjic, 11-Darijo Srna; 17-Mario Mandzukic, 10-Luka Modric.
Italy vs Republic of Ireland – Miejski Stadium, Poznan.
1-Gianluigi Buffon; 3-Giorgio Chiellini, 15-Andrea Barzagli, 6-Federico Balzaretti, 7-Ignazio Abate; 21-Andrea Pirlo, 5-Thiago Motta, 8-Claudio Marchisio, 16-Daniele De Rossi; 11-Antonio Di Natale, 10-Antonio Cassano.
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