Something to Cro about

  • By: Andy Schooler and David John
  • Last Updated: June 23 2014, 21:03 BST

Andy Schooler and David John preview Monday's four World Cup games with Croatia taken to win and a 11/2 tip in Australia v Spain.

Matt Leckie: Good value to score against Spain
Matt Leckie: Good value to score against Spain

It's a day which sees the final round of group games get under way.

In Group A, three sides are still chasing the two qualification spots, while in group B it's all about whether Chile or Netherlands will finish on top.

Check out our match-by-match verdict below:

Australia v Spain (Group B, Curitiba, 1700 BST)

This is the group's dead rubber with both already eliminated from qualification but there is no doubt which team has made the greater impact.

The Aussies have played with tremendous verve and flair and perhaps on another week they could well still be alive, such was the way they took the game to both Chile and Holland.

It is not in the nation's psyche to feel sorry for themselves though so I expect them to be bang up for this and ready to dish it out once again to a Spanish side that is going through a real period of public soul-searching.

Plenty of good judges felt that this may be one tournament too far for Vicente Del Bosque's stars but the speed with which they have been dethroned has been little short of shocking.

Del Bosque has to carry a good deal of the blame. His team selections have been baffling as lightly-raced goalkeeper Iker Casillas has been miles off the pace along with Xabi Alonso as Cesc Fabregas warms the bench. The gamble on the readiness of the brilliant Diego Costa has also backfired.

So punters can be pretty sure to see some changes - all too late - as this team attempts to avoid being the worst Spanish side in World Cup history.

It will be humiliating if they went home with a big fat zero but you would also be crazy to wade in at 2/5 about them winning the game on all recent evidence.

Early players have already had a nibble on Australia at around the 8/1 mark but they will go into battle without striker Tim Cahill (suspended) and midfielder Mark Bresciano (injured).

Cahill's absence means a more central role for the outstanding Matt Leckie, who has caused big problems for defences in the two games so far down his right flank.

His pace could mean all sorts of nightmares for Sergio Ramos and co and I would be quite keen on him finding the net at 11/2 in what should be another entertaining contest.

Verdict: Australia 2 Spain 2 (DJ)

Opta facts:

This will be the first ever meeting between Australia and Spain.

Australia have only won one of their seven World Cup games against European opposition (2-1 v Serbia in 2010).

Spain have never lost all three games in a World Cup group.

Tim Cahill has scored five of Australia's 11 World Cup goals but is suspended for this game.

In winning Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012, Spain conceded a total of six goals, one fewer than they have so far at World Cup 2014.

Netherlands v Chile (Group B, Sao Paulo, 1700 BST)

Perhaps the most interesting dynamic to this game is the prospect of who lies in wait in the round of 16 having done the hard work and safely booked their tickets out of the group.

Working on the assumption Brazil finish atop Group A, the runner-up here will have to take on the hosts next.

The Dutch have the edge currently on goal difference so a draw would see them take top spot and face a less daunting task on paper against either Mexico or Croatia.

It is undeniable that Chile have been one of the most impressive sides so far at the event. Their high-tempo pressing has been extremely effective, matched in equal measures by tremendous levels of endurance and fitness.

Coach Jorge Sampaoli has the necessary flair from players like Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal to go a long way but it is their collective approach to the task at hand that has to be admired most.

Vidal and Charles Aranguiz are both carrying knocks so could be rested yet Sampaoli could be tempted to stick both in from the start if his plan is to push hard for top spot. That said, I don't think he should be particularly frightened at what he has seen from Brazil so far and won't for one moment be fazed at the prospect of locking horns with the Selecao.

I thought for a moment or two the Netherlands may have reverted to type against Australia having blown away Spain. They made heavy weather against the former in a 3-2 victory but did at least show some steel to go along with the flakiness having trailed briefly 2-1.

A yellow card for Robin van Persie means he misses out and a reshuffle for Louis van Gaal, who could go with a more solid 5-3-2 line-up in a bid to protect what he has and get the point his side needs.

My gut feeling then is to take a watching brief at this stage with question marks over team selection and wait to see how the cards fall in terms of who is up next for a lively pair of contenders.

Verdict: Netherlands 1 Chile 1 (DJ)

Opta facts:

The Netherlands have failed to win their two games against South American opposition when the World Cup has been held in South America (0-0 v Peru and 1-3 v Argentina in 1978).

The Dutch have won three of the last four World Cup games in which they've gone behind.

Netherlands have not lost a World Cup group game since 1994.

Chile have never won three successive World Cup games within the same tournament.

Cameroon v Brazil (Group A, Brasilia, 2100 BST)

The ante-post favourites have yet to light up their own tournament, needing the referee's help to edge past Croatia and then being held by Mexico.

It means they still have work to do to reach the last 16, although it is highly unlikely they will now miss out - the other game in the group would have to end in a draw and they would need to lose this one.

It's a combination hard to envisage, especially given their opposition in this final group match looks in disarray.

Already eliminated, Cameroon saw Alex Song sent off who a truly crazy elbow against Croatia last time out (he is now suspended for this one) and ended the match having a pop at each other.

Remember this is a side who delayed their arrival in Brazil while they argued over money. The impression they are giving off is that they can't wait to leave.

I expect Brazil to win comfortably, although it is worth mentioning the possibility that they will be able to control who they face in the last 16 - this group ends after Group B has been decided. Either Chile or Netherlands will top that one with the other going through as runners-up.

I can't really see that being much of a factor though given the current Group A situation and you'd have thought the most important thing for the hosts here will be to produce a convincing display akin to the ones they managed in last summer's Confederations Cup and send out a message that they are indeed the real deal.

It seems the perfect opportunity and, if they can make an early breakthrough, I can see them winning this at a canter.

For all the criticism that came their way after the Mexico game, it should be remembered they were the better team and only a fine goalkeeping display denied them victory.

Unfortunately, the prices show the bookies fully expect a comfortable win for the Selecao. They are only a shade of odds-against to win by three clear goals and 7/10 to win to nil - a bet that may still interest the big-hitters given Cameroon have failed to score so far.

For those seeking a bigger price, I feel the way to go could be to back an early goal.

Cameroon conceded after 11 minutes against Croatia and effectively let one in after 10 against Mexico - a bad decision by the linesman seeing it ruled out.

Brazil made fast starts in their Confederations Cup matches last season and Luiz Felipe Scolari will, I'm sure, be drilling it into his side how they performed then and the desire to replicate it.

An added bonus for those playing in this market is Brazil have looked a little shaky at the back in the early stages of games - Croatia netted against them after 11 minutes.

Paddy Power go 10/11 about the first goal coming inside 20 minutes but you can almost double that price by heading to William Hill who offer 15/8 about the opener coming inside 15. It's worth considering.

Verdict: Cameroon 0 Brazil 3 (AS)

Opta facts:

Cameroon won the last meeting involving these sides, running out 1-0 victors when Samuel Eto'o scored a late winner during the 2003 Confederations Cup. However, Brazil won their only World Cup meeting - 3-0 in 1994.

Cameroon have hit 30 shots in this World Cup but only three of them have been on target.

Cameroon have kept only one clean sheet in their last 18 World Cup games.

Brazil haven't failed to top their World Cup group since the last tournament in South America (Argentina 1978).

Croatia v Mexico (Group A, Recife, 2100 BST)

This one is set up nicely with the winner certain to go through and the loser almost certain to go out.

The draw will be good enough to put Mexico in the last 16 due to their goal difference advantage, but it's highly unlikely to be enough for Croatia, so the need for them to win the game is clear.

They've impressed so far, with 34-year-old Ivica Olic rolling back the years with some energetic surges down the left.

In midfield, there's top quality in Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, while the importance of Mario Mandzukic to their forward line was highlighted when he returned from suspension to score twice in their demolition of Cameroon in the week.

It's easy to argue that had the Bayern Munich man played against Brazil in the opener, the result could well have been different.

Mexico will be no pushovers though and their solidity so far has seen them keep two clean sheets. They love to press and close down but it will be hard to do that for the full 90 minutes in the heat and humidity of Recife - the latter is expected to be above 80%.

The quality of Croatia's forward play is the key for me in this one and I am siding with them.

They produced plenty of attacking football and they will need to do the same here. Brazil showed Mexico will struggle to deny a good side chances and keeper Guillermo Ochoa won't bail them out every game.

Of course, Mexico will be capable of hitting Croatia on the break, especially if things are still tight late on - indeed this game looks a prime opportunity for in-play betting.

Still, in a tournament in which attacking verve has trumped defensive dourness, I am happy to back Croatia simply to win the match.

Verdict: Croatia 2 Mexico 0 (AS)

Opta facts:

Mexico have won only seven of their 30 World Cup games against European opposition.

Croatia's Mario Mandzukic has scored with both of his shots on target so far.

Croatia have never won their final group game at a World Cup (D1 L2).

Mexico haven't won their final group game at a World Cup since 1986 (on home soil).

  • Posted at 1810 BST on 22/06/2014.