Going into the 2014 World Cup, expectations for the hosts Brazil were win the entire competition or bust. Those expectations were not misguided considering the amount of talent and depth that the squad has and the fact that they had one of the superstars of the World Cup in Neymar. Neymar and his team lived up to the hype in the group stage winning Group A and not losing a match in the process. Now. with the group stage behind them, Brazil can look to the knockout stage with the hopes of winning the title in front of their home fans.
Brazil wrapped up the group stage with their best performance of the World Cup so far in a 4-1 thrashing of Cameroon. The win against Cameroon meant that the hosts won Group A. They finished tied with Mexico at seven points, but won the group because of their lead in goal differential. A great positive that they can take away from the group stage is that they got better with each match. In the first match against Croatia they got the win, but there were major areas where improvement was needed. In their toughest match of the group stage against Mexico, they played very well, but were unable to get on the score sheet as both teams had to settle for a 0-0 draw. The greatest improvement came in the last match against Cameroon when they poured in four goals and won 4-1. To move on deep into the knockout stages, Brazil will have to play with the form they had in that last win over Cameroon.
The play of Brazil’s superstar Neymar has been excellent and he has lived up to, if not exceeded, expectations placed on him by his soccer-loving homeland. It is great for the hosts that he has played so well, because not all 22-year-olds with the weight of the country on their backs could live up to that pressure. Neymar has not just played well, but also has embraced the fact that his country’s hopes for winning its sixth World Cup rest on his shoulders. The Barcelona man’s athleticism and eye for the net have been on full display for the world to see, as his status as one of the stars of this World Cup is not in any doubt.
Next up, Brazil will play Chile, who have also played very well so far in this World Cup, in a match that will be a huge moment for both South American nations. To beat Chile, manager Felipe Luiz Scolari might need to make a few tweaks to his lineup. The play of midfielder Fernandinho in the match against Cameroon has to make him question if the Manchester City man should be paired with Luiz Gustavo from the start of the match rather than coming on as a sub. Another big decision for Scolari is whether or not to stick with Fred as his main striker. The media in Brazil has been very hard on Fred for his lackluster performances so far and rightly so. He has been nowhere near the player he was last summer when they defeated Spain in the Confederations Cup. The problem with the Fred decision is who can they bring in to replace him. Jo has been the man substituted for him, but he has not done anything of note yet either. Fred’s goal against Cameroon may be enough to keep him in the side against Chile, but does he deserve to keep that spot?
Brazil will face South American rivals Chile coming up on June 28 in their first match of the knockout stage. To move onto the quarterfinals, they will need to play the same way they did in the last group match against Cameroon, but at the same time be very wary of Chile’s ability to attack. It will be another great match in what has so far been an excellent World Cup.
Commentary by Max Petkevicius