COMMENT: The hosts haven't been spectacular in their group matches so far but they have topped their section and now take on fellow South Americans Chile in the next round
When Brazil beat Spain 3-0 in the final of the Confederations Cup last year, Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side were confirmed as the team to beat at this summer’s World Cup. It’s not been as much of a walk in the park as some would have expected, however.
After a hard-fought win over Croatia in their opening game, they had to settle for a draw against Mexico on matchday two, meaning qualification for the round of 16 all depended on their final group stage match versus Cameroon.
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Dani Alves looked vulnerable in defence and was caught out a number of times, Oscar and Paulinho struggled in midfield and Cameroon threatened via Ben Moukandjo and Eric Choupo-Moting. Brazil were fortunate to escape an equaliser when Joel Matip’s header hit the crossbar, and so it was not a surprise when the Schalke man did find the net shortly after.
The individual brilliance of Neymar got the hosts back in front before half-time, but Scolari recognised the need for change as he brought on Fernandinho for Paulinho at the interval.
Even if the chance of a premature exit was minimal before the last round of games, there was still a small chance Brazil could be out of the tournament before it even really started. After the early exit of reigning champions Spain and with two out of England, Italy and Uruguay set to go home, the tournament could not afford to lose another major contender. That this didn’t happen was largely down to Neymar – and Cameroon’s incompetence.
The former Santos star took his team forward in a disappointing first half and continued to threaten after the break. Neymar might have yet to win over all his critics following his move to Barcelona last summer, but there’s no denying that he has been sublime at this World Cup.
With four goals in three games, the 22-year-old currently tops the goalscoring ranking, and he has played a major role in his side’s qualification for the round of 16.
His team-mates will need to step up if Brazil are to win their sixth World Cup in history, however. Their second-half performance against Cameroon was promising, yet the fact remains that they have been far from their best. With Chile awaiting in the round of 16, more is needed – a fact Scolari will be fully aware of.