Brazil rolled past Cameroon 4-1 in Brasilia on Monday night, with Neymar nicking a brace and Fred and Fernandinho each adding second-half insurance to give the hosts top slot in Group A.
With the win Brazil earned a date with South American rivals Chile in the Round of 16. That game will take place on Saturday in Belo Horizonte. Mexico finished second in the group with their 3-1 win over Croatia in the other match of the day.
Brazil were rarely in danger in a game that at times felt like a coronation. Flying out of the blocks at the Mane Garrincha, the hosts looked to sink sorry Cameroon as quickly as possible, then take the rest of the day off. They didn’t quite accomplish that — and suffered a worrying injury en route — but in the end, it was comfortable indeed.
Cameroon keeper Charles Intanjde was in for the brunt of the action. He was forced to the floor in the first minute alone by Neymar, and saw that flood of yellow shirts rarely stop thereafter. That it took Brazil a whole sixteen minutes to score was something of a shock.
Cameroon’s defense looked as if it had never seen a soccer ball, much less played the sport, so when Luis Gustavo sent in the most average of crosses, it was fitting that both Joel Matip and Nicholas N’Koulou gaped at it as it rolled between them. Neymar was able to run onto it and score with a simple tap-in.
Neymar nearly doubled the lead three minutes late with a stinging shot that was well-saved, and there was even time for comedy when Fred attempted to roll the ball into the net like a dog with a toy, crawling along the turf after he and Itanjde had collided in a tumble of arms and legs.
And then, the laughter stopped. Cameroon rolled down the field and hit the woodwork through Benjamin Moukandjo; then, on the ensuring corner, saw Allan Nyom storm down the endline to send in a ball to Matip that he slammed past a stunned and rooted Julio Cesar. The crowd in Brasilia settled into a hush. Surely Brazil could not blow this one?
As has been so often the case, Neymar dragged the golden boys back. Marcelo tapped a ball forward and Neymar drifted right then fired to the lower left through the legs of Nyom. It was a bit of magic, but again, Cameroon’s defending was at best average.
There was more to come after the break with Itanjde looking more and more like a man given a teaspoon to bail out a sinking aircraft carrier. Fernandinho entered for the ineffective Paulinho, and Brazil started to look simply imperial.
Fred forced a low save just after the break with a blast off his left foot, and a series of corners ensued after Itanjde was forced to parry over a free-kick by Neymar. Fred then grabbed the third when he met a cross from David Luiz dead center and buried the header. He looked a touch offside but as has often been the case in this tournament with these motley linesman, the call was blown and the goal stood.
Brazil will be worried about the fitness of Neymar after he had to come off in the 71st minute after he was hacked down running full-tilt at the net by Henri Bedimo. He was later seen with ice on his leg, but he came off under his won power.
Fernandinho scored a vital goal with six minutes to play, netting off service from Oscar to preserve Brazil’s lead on goal difference atop the table. News from Mexico’s thumping of Croatia had filtered along the sideline and Phil Scolari was frantically urging his side forward to maintain that vital cushion.