By Mike Collett-White, Brian Homewood, Keith Weir and Toby Davis
With the loser likely to face hosts Brazil in the next round, the Netherlands and Chile will go all out for victory when they meet in their Group B match on Monday, even though both teams are through to the last 16.
While coaches studiously avoid discussing anything but the next game, what lies ahead adds a tantalising twist to a contest between European thoroughbreds and a Chile team that has surpassed expectations by ousting champions Spain.
That 2-0 win at the Maracana stadium in Rio sent shockwaves through the tournament and will ensure that the Netherlands take their opponents seriously when they meet in Sao Paulo.
Chile’s best result at a World Cup came on home soil in 1962, when they finished third after losing to Brazil.
In France (1998) and South Africa (2010) they reached the last 16, only to exit at the hands of Brazil on both occasions.
Coming top of Group B, and avoiding this year’s hosts, would appear to be a priority
Another win over Africans in prospect for Brazil
Brazil’s perfect record against African teams at the World Cup suggests that Monday’s Group A match against a demoralised, discredited Cameroon should be little more than a stroll in the park.
Goalless Cameroon have already been knocked out of the competition and would seem to be the perfect opponents for the stuttering hosts to find their rhythm and sort out their disjointed midfield.
Brazil have four points from their opening two games and need a draw to make the last 16, which should be a formality against the Indomitable Lions whose seventh World Cup campaign has fallen into disarray in sadly familiar style.
After losing 1-0 to Mexico, they were eliminated in a shambolic 4-0 defeat to Croatia where Alex Song was sent off in the first half for striking an opponent and full back Benoit Assou-Ekotto appeared to headbutt team mate Benjamin Moukandjo near the end of the match.
Brazil have played six matches against African sides at the World Cup and won each time.
Brazil have yet to find the free-flowing form they displayed on the way to winning last year’s Confederations Cup and their 0-0 draw with Mexico on Tuesday ended a 10-match winning run.
Their midfield has been short on inspiration and failed to provide forward Neymar with the space and supply of passes he needs to torment defenders.
“When you compare the Confederations Cup with the World Cup it’s not the same, all the teams are very prepared for the World Cup,” said defender David Luiz. “The level today is very high.”
Perky Australians seek to complete Spanish misery
Only pride is at stake when deposed champions Spain meet Australia in the World Cup on Monday but the Australians want to inflict more pain on their demoralised rivals before they head home.
Both teams have no points and have been eliminated but the mood in the two camps is very different, reflecting their contrasting expectations coming to the tournament.
Spain cannot wait to leave Brazil behind after the European and world champions were humbled in a 5-1 thrashing by the Dutch and a 2-0 loss to Chile.
The Australians want to show that their spirited display in a 3-2 defeat by the Dutch was not just a flash in the pan.
Once the World Cup is over, Spain are likely to call time on veterans including captain Iker Casillas who has had a miserable two games in goal.
Australia will have to do without their talisman Tim Cahill, scorer of a superb volley against the Dutch.
Cahill, 34, picked up a second yellow card of the tournament later in the game and is suspended.
Mandzukic and Ochoa set for Recife showdown
Croatia’s World Cup shootout with Mexico for a spot in the last 16 pitches Mario Mandzukic, a gunslinger who is back among the goals, against Guillermo Ochoa, a goalkeeper who has shown a unique ability to keep his team alive.
Mandzukic, Croatia’s principle attacking weapon, will be looking to add to the two he scored on his return from suspension in their 4-0 win over Cameroon, but the obstacle in his path, Mexico’s maverick shot-stopper Ochoa, has already put up a one-man barricade to keep Brazil at bay on Tuesday.
The prize on offer in Monday’s decisive Group A clash in Recife is a spot in the knockout stages, with Mexico, who have four points from their opening two salvos, knowing a draw will enough to see them safely through.
Niko Kovac’s Croatia, a point behind, will almost certainly need to win, although a draw would suffice if the already-eliminated Cameroon can produce one of the biggest shocks of all time against Brazil in a match played simultaneously in Brasilia.
Croatia have not reached the last-16 since their impressive third place finish in the 1998 tournament.
Mexico have made a habit of making it out of their group, having reached the knockout stages in the last five World Cups.
The Group A winner will face the runner-up in Group B and vice versa.