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Are Brazil fortunate to have won Group A?

by J.C. Velez
Jun 24, 2014 6:58 PM EDT



As the group stages of the FIFA World Cup come to an exciting close this week, the knockout rounds are beginning to take shape. Yesterday, Group A action saw Brazil facing Cameroon and Mexico wrapping up first round play against Croatia. The Brazilians and the Mexicans were all tied up with four points, but Brazil had the upper hand with a better goal differential. The Mexican national side needed a victory by several goals to advance as the top side in the group, along with a narrow Brazilian victory or tie.

The first half of Cameroon vs. Brazil saw the hosts take a one goal lead courtesy of a Neymar brace after Cameroon had tied things up at one goal apiece. Meanwhile Croatia and Mexico were deadlocked at 0-0. Everything was looking good for Brazil, as they were a solid half away from advancing as the top team from a tough Group A and setting up a meeting with Chile, avoiding the offensive powerhouse that has been the Netherlands.

But suddenly, in a span of ten minutes, the landscape of this juggernaut group changed completely. Mexico took a commanding 3-0 lead vs Croatia, now pitting Brazil vs the Netherlands. Mexico had overcome the goal differential and taken control of the group and setting up a match versus Chile. But it was not to be.

The footballing divinity has been mostly in favor of the hosting Brazilian side in the tournament so far. But has it really been divinity, luck, chance? In close observation of the play of Group A, one has to be inclined to recognize the favor Brazil has received as the host nation,

Beginning with the opening match of the tournament, Brazil faced a stern test against a more than capable Croatia. The scoring opened with an unfortunate Marcelo own-goal, although Brazilian prodigal son Neymar soon evened things up.
But the controversy that comes with the World Cup did not take long to arrive. A severe dive by striker Fred paved the way for Neymar to answer the call once again. The gifted penalty was converted and Croatia was forced to look for an equalizer. This opened up the match, and Brazil took advantage of a last minute counter attack spear headed by Oscar to secure a 3-1 Brazilian victory.
The next match of the group had Mexico facing Cameroon, another match with its own controversial calls. Mexican striker Giovani dos Santos was denied of two legitimate goals for offsides calls that analysts and pundits have recognized as being clearly mistaken. But FIFA has continued to refuse to enable the use of replay for one of the most polarizing aspects of the game. Mexico did collect the three points with a 1-0 victory; but they ultimately could have been in the lead with a greater goal difference in their favor.
The ensuing battle of Brazil vs Mexico was a titanic clash that proved even sided with both sides having good opportunities, with Guillermo Ochoa ultimately walking away the hero, helping his side collect a point against the hosts.
The final matches of the group continued the trend of controversial calls. Croatia was spared by the referee on a play where the Croatian defender Dejan Lovren blocked a Mexico shot with his outstretched hands inside the box. There was no card given and no penalty awarded to the Mexican side who had yet to score at that point in the match.
Meanwhile, Brazil had taken a 3-1 lead on an offside goal by struggling attacker Fred. Replays clearly show that Fred was 2-3 feet ahead of the last Cameroonian defender.

Brazil went on to score just minutes after Mexico had converted their group-topping third strike to regain the advantage and the match versus the Chilean side on Saturday. Mexico also conceded their first goal of the tournament to seal their Sunday date with the Netherlands.

The results are final and the decisions made by referees are definitive. But when one looks closer, "dodgy" (as the English inventors of the sport like to say), can be a word used to describe the events that have not only transpired in Group A, but in the World Cup as a whole as well. Could Mexico have had the better goal differential, giving Brazil a very tough match up in the round of 16? It is impossible to say now, but the odds, referees, or Brazilian influence within FIFA have given the "canarinhos" an advantage so far. Hopefully the host side can carry itself deep into the tournament with its football and not much else.