World Cup Day 12: Five things we learnt

Mexico's Javier Hernandez celebrates after his team scored its first goal against Croatia. Photo / AP
Mexico's Javier Hernandez celebrates after his team scored its first goal against Croatia. Photo / AP

Michael Burgess looks at the five things learned from today's action in Brazil including the increasing pressure on the hosts.

We are watching a Mexican miracle
Mexico's swashbuckling win over Croatia today has them positioned as one of the form teams in the tournament. They look unstoppable going forward, especially on the counter attack and have one of the best midfield combinations here in Brazil. El Tri have also only conceded one goal (goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa is having a tournament for the ages) and kept host nation Brazil at bay for 90 minutes.

It's an incredible story. Remember, Mexico were a few minutes away from missing the tournament altogether, until the USA scored a late winner to deny Panama and rescue their neighbours. Coach Miguel Herrera has unified a previously divided squad, and their self belief is sky high - it seems unlikely that Holland will be able to stop them on Monday. Get past the Dutch and they will be in the quarter finals for the first time since 1986.

Neymar comes to the rescue - but Brazil are feeling the pressure
Thanks largely to Neymar's timely first half intervention, the Selecao dug themselves out of a hole against Cameroon today but it wasn't the most convincing performance. The African side put up a better fight, but are still one of the worst teams in the tournament.

Maybe Brazil are just building steadily - they have time to improve and will fancy their chances against Chile on Sunday, with a 100 per cent World Cup record against the Andean country. But their defence still looks vulnerable, which is the key aspect as the tournament goes into the latter stages.

Off the field, the home team is feeling the heat. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari is having a running battle with the local press, with every day seemingly bringing a new point of contention. This week Scolari has issued a mandate that the team's extensive media commitments will be scaled back considerably, especially those of Neymar, so the team can focus on the tournament.

The USA are the real deal
Two decades ago the USA football team was a bit of a joke. Sure, they made the second round when they hosted the tournament in 1994 but were a extremely limited side. And remember, they hadn't even qualified for the World Cup between 1954 and 1986.

How things are changed. Yesterday Jurgen Klinsmann's team were seconds away from moving into top spot in Group G, before Portugal's last minute goal. It would have been a deserved victory, against a Portuguese side that had much more to play for.

Team USA have now qualified for the last seven World Cups and that experience is starting to show. The Americans have always been supremely conditioned and resilient, but they have added a technical element to their play that allows them to compete with the more established football nations in the world.

The `Super' Leagues have big problems
Who would have thought? The teams that represent the richest and most glamorous leagues in the world are heading home, with both England and Spain booked on flights later this week. Italy, whose Serie A is arguably the third biggest domestic league on the planet is also on the brink after their defeat to Costa Rica.

Maybe those competitions can take a lesson from the sensible practices of the Bundesliga teams, which restrict spending and wages to realistic levels and maintain a sizeable core of local players. It's a particular problem in England where the Premier League - undoubtedly a spectacular product - now draws more than 60 per cent of their players from outside England.

Ecuador are the corner kings
Short corner have been a feature of this tournament, with teams looking for inventive ways to get around the packed defensive formations in the penalty areas. Italy came up with a fabulous move for their first goal against England, Uruguay's Edinson Cavani came close versus the same team with a well worked move and Chile tried to negate the towering Dutch defence with some clever options today.

However, Ecuador are the stand out innovators; in their win over Honduras they played a series of corners directly up the sideline, before launching a booming cross into the area. It was extremely effective, as their attacking players delayed their runs until the last moment, making them very difficult to mark.

- NZ Herald

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