World Cup, June 23: Group A's day of reckoning

Laura Mellis

Groups A and B are in the spotlight today, as the third match beckons for eight national teams, four of whom will be going home. We already know three of them, but will Croatia or Mexico be the fourth?

Four matches today, as group play begins to wind up.

9 AM Eastern time:

Group A: Australia v Spain, Curitiba.

Weather: Humid, but not too hot (60s)

Why you should watch: The end of an era.  La Furia Roja have nothing to play for here, so will del Bosque take this opportunity to give some other players a chance and rest Xabi Alonso, Iker Casillas, etc.?  Or will we see the same tired, old XI as against Chile? Apparently there have been some training ground ructions after the Chile loss, and a number of players (Santi Cazorla included) have taken issue with Xabi Alonso's opinion that the team has lacked motivation.

Australia, for a bunch of no-hopers, have been surprisingly watchable.  They gave their all against the Netherlands and could have earned some of the spoils at least with better finishing.  They're building for 2018.  Matthew Leckie has been very impressive in this WC; expect him to move from the German second division before long.   Sadly, Tim Cahill is suspended for this one.

Prediction: Spain 1-1 Australia

Group A: Netherlands v Chile, Sao Paolo

Weather:  Humid, around 70 degrees.  Could be worse.

Why you should watch:  This game matters in that the loser probably faces Brazil in the next round. (A draw means the Dutch win the group).  Plus, watching Chile's coach Sampaoli prowl the touchline is always entertaining.  And of course Villarreal property de Guzman has been playing for the Dutch.

A subplot here involves yellow cards: de Guzmán and de Vrij have on each for the Dutch (Robin van Persie has two and is suspended for this match), while Mena, Vidal, and Aranguiz have one each for the Chileans.  If any of those players pick up a yellow, they miss the round of 16 match

Prediction: Netherlands 2-1 Chile

4 PM EDT

Group B: Brazil v Cameroon, Brasilia

Weather: Usual: 65% humidity, 70 degrees

Why you should watch: I can't think why.  To see if Cameroon players start headbutting each other again, maybe?  Brazil need a win to guarantee finishing first, but Cameroon is so bad I don't see how Brazil can keep from winning.  Alex Song continued the family tradition by picking up a red card so won't take part; for Brazil, Neymar, Luis Gustavo, Thiago Silva and Ramieres are all on a yellow apiece.

Prediction: Brazil 4-0 Cameroon

Group B: Mexico v Croatia, Recife

Weather: Partly cloudy, 50% chance of rain, 70s temp

Why you should watch:  If you aren't watching this one, you're crazy.  This one determines who goes through (almost certainly in second place) from Group A.  A draw means Mexico advance to the second round; Croatia have to go for it, therefore.  The Croats still feel they were done in by poor refereeing in the first match against Brazil, while the Mexicans have done exactly what they needed to do--defeat Cameroon, and draw against Brazil.

And for followers of La Liga, watching the creative play of Rakitic and Modric in the Croatian midfield, and Giovanni dos Santos for Mexico, is a special treat.  This comes down to whether Croatia have enough balance in their side, and whether the Mexican defense, which was such a liability in qualifying, can continue its recent strong form.  Mexico just seems to find a way to get the results they need in the group stage, so I am predicting them to again, but I wouldn't be surprised at anything in this game.  I wouldn't even be surprised to see our man Javier Aquino get a few minutes--Aguilar has not been that impressive.

Prediction: Mexico 2-2 Croatia

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