I’m going to change the format of previews for the last matches in each group. Some matches have a lot at stake and others aren’t as important. I’ll describe the scenario for each group and include some players to watch in “what to watch for.”
Netherlands and Chile are through to the next phase. Spain and Australia will feel like an exhibition match. Netherlands will win the group with a win or draw, and Chile will top Group B with a victory. The group winner will likely play Mexico or Croatia in the round of 16 assuming Brazil wins Group A.
Match: Netherlands vs. Chile in Sao Paulo
What to watch for: It will be interesting to see how these teams approach this match. Both will want to avoid playing Brazil in the next round so a good result is important. Netherlands will be without Robin Van Persie because of yellow cards in the previous two matches. The Dutch need to tighten up on defense and hope for more magic from Arjen Robben. Chile is going to rest Arturo Vidal for this match. They have a significant home-crowd advantage that greatly helped them against Spain. Alexis Sanchez has had a strong tournament and could cause trouble for the inexperienced Dutch back line.
Prediction: Netherlands 2 (Lens, Sneijder), Chile 1 (Vargas)
Match: Australia vs. Spain in Curitiba
What to watch for: Nothing to play for this this match other than pride. Australia played very well against Chile and the Netherlands but fell short. Tim Cahill will be out because of yellow card accumulation but the Australians will want to finish the tournament strong. Spain will start a few new players including David Villa, Fernado Torres, Santi Cazorla and Koke. They will certainly not want to leave Brazil without a point so expect an open match with a lot of goals.
Prediction: Spain 3 (Villa, Iniesta, Cazorla), Australia 2 (Jedinak, Taggart)
The Brazil-Mexico draw made this group a lot more interesting. Brazil needs at least a point to advance to the next round. They would win the group if they beat Cameroon and Mexico doesn’t win. If Brazil and Mexico wins, the group will be decided on goal differential. Croatia will make it to the knockout stage if they defeat Mexico.
Match: Cameroon vs. Brazil in Brasilia
What to watch for: Brazil hasn’t impressed anyone with their play in the World Cup. They were aided by a bad penalty call against Croatia and were shut out by Mexico. This is a match they can breakout against a Cameroon team that was picked apart by Croatia. Goal differential could be a tiebreaker so Brazil might want to win by several goals for that reason and to help their confidence going forward.
Prediction: Brazil 3 (Neymar, Oscar, Fred), Cameroon 0
Match: Croatia vs. Mexico in Recife
What to watch for: Croatia looked like a completely different team with striker Mario Mandzukic leading the line. He linked well with Ivica Olic and Ivan Perisic against Cameroon. Mexico hasn’t given up a goal in the World Cup. They can thank goalkeeper Memo Ochoa for the draw against Brazil. He had one of the best individual performances in this World Cup with four world-class saves by my count. I think Croatia is the better team on paper but playing their previous match in humid Manaus will hurt them. They will feel the pressure to win and get frustrated by Mexico.
Prediction: Croatia 1 (Olic), Mexico 1 (dos Santos)