Mexico controls its World Cup fate vs. Croatia

As Group A heads into their final set of games on Monday, the table is still wide open as teams have yet to clinch a spot in the round of 16.

Day 12 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup on Monday marks the beginning of the end of the group stage. Two games will be played simultaneously at two different timeslots for four straight days to determine the Round of 16 matchups.

One of the most important matches on Monday is Mexico versus Croatia. El Tri has a one point advantage over their Group A opponents, so it’s a must-win for the European side. A loss or a draw would mean the Mexicans progress to the next round. Brazil battles Cameroon, who is already eliminated. The host has a chance to win Group A in that one.

Over in Group B, the Netherlands square off with Chile with the winner grabbing first place there, although the Dutch can also win the group with a draw. Australia versus Spain is a mere consolation at this point.

Here are four keys for Day 12.

Monday programming alert: Watch Australia vs. Spain (at 11:30 am ET) and Croatia vs. Mexico (at 3:45 pm ET) live on all four main Sportsnet channels. | TV schedule

Dutch height and defence vs. Chilean attack

The Netherlands have conceded three goals in their first two matches at the World Cup. Spain didn’t create a lot of chances after their lone goal, but Australia exposed the Dutch backline on the counter-attack last time out.

Chile targeted Spain on the break in its encounter and it worked to perfection. Surely, manager Jorge Sampaoli and his coaching staff watched the Netherlands-Australia game and noticed how open the Dutch defence was in those situations.

That’s Chile’s best method of victory. The downside is, like in every game, they have a height disadvantage. The Chileans are the shortest team in the World Cup with an average height of five-foot-nine. The Netherlands can easily capitalize on set pieces.

Will Del Bosque preview the next generation?

With Spain out of the competition, the defending world champions have nothing to play for when they go up against Australia. Manager Vicente Del Bosque’s future is up in the air and the future of the national team is in question. However, it’s far too early to be predicting the latter.

David De Gea, Koke, Javi Martinez, Pedro, Juan Mata, Jordi Alba, Diego Costa, and Cesar Azpilicueta will all be in their prime by the 2018 World Cup. Those are just the names in this current squad. Del Bosque may not be coaching the team in four years’ time, but he can at least show the world that Spanish football is still alive and kicking.

Giving a few of the aforementioned players a start versus Australia can signal intent for the future. Since there’s nothing to play for, there’s no need to trot out the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta. Give them a much deserved break and play the younger generation.

Can Brazil calm the nerves with a thrashing?

Following their 0-0 draw versus Mexico, a lot of Brazilians are questioning the tactics of manager Luiz Felipe Scolari. Brazil have been wasteful going forward and have conceded a few too many chances, but the drama could all subside for at least a few days if they can rack up the goals against Cameroon.

It’s entirely possible that the Selecao can do that. Even before Cameroon was reduced to 10 men against Croatia, the Indomitable Lions were being carved open by the Croatian attack. Surely Neymar, Oscar and the like can do the same?

If Brazil scores at least three goals and wins by a similar margin, the fans will be calm, at least for the time being. They shouldn’t be that restless to begin with, since their team is surely progressing to the next round and haven’t hit full stride yet.

Will Mexico sit deep or play with freedom?

Mexico has shocked their doubters thus far at the World Cup. Manager Miguel Herrera has brought the serenity back to the squad and has them organized on the pitch. That was a major reason why El Tri held Brazil to a 0-0 draw.

Now Mexico controls its fate. A win or a draw means progression to the Round of 16 for the sixth straight tournament. However, no one knows whether they’ll open up against Croatia or sit back and play it safe.

The Brazil game probably suggests the latter. Mexico’s back three has been stable enough to not concede a goal yet at this tournament. Only Nigeria shares that honour so far. If that’s the case, Croatia may have their hands full. Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa proved that when his backline collapses, he’s there to pick up the pieces.

The way Mexico has been playing, that strategy could work out for them.

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