World Cup breathes a sigh of relief as Brazil reaches last 16

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
BRASILIA, Brazil -- When Brazil beat Spain 3-0 in the final of the Confederations Cup last year, Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side was confirmed as the team to beat at this summer’s World Cup. It’s not been as much of a walk in the park so far as some would have expected, however.

After a hard-fought win over Croatia in their opening game, Brazil had to settle for a draw against Mexico on matchday two, meaning qualification for the round of 16 all depended on its final group stage match versus Cameroon.

The Selecao immediately showed their attacking intentions at the Estadio Mane Garrincha and came close to opening the scoring after just two minutes when Luiz Gustavo’s shot from five yards out was blocked. They eventually did break the deadlock in the 17th minute through Neymar but rather than settle down Brazil seemed to lose the plot.

Dani Alves looked vulnerable in defense 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 was fortunate to escape an equalizer 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 halftime, but Scolari recognized the need for change as he brought on Fernandinho for Paulinho.

The substitute made an immediate impact as he set up David Luiz down the left, who reached Fred with a superb cross, which was duly headed home by the Fluminense man. The 3-1 lead effectively put the match to bed and was met by a visible sigh of relief by Scolari – and FIFA will have been equally pleased that the tournament’s main attraction sealed qualification.

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 champion 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 the World Cup.

With four goals in three games, the 22-year-old tops the goalscoring ranking at the moment, and he has played a major role in his side’s qualification for the round of 16.

His teammates will need to step up if Brazil is to win its sixth World Cup in history, however. Their second-half performance versus 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 – and Scolari will be fully aware of that.