THE DAY REPLAYED – An iconic Spaniard, a Dutch tornado, a Brazilian thrill machine and a Mexican warrior magnetized the spotlight heading into Matchday 12 – and emphatically is how they lived up to the pressure.
David Villa, in the last appearance of a glorious international career, hit his 59th and probably finest goal. Arjen Robben almost netted his personal best for the Netherlands in another exhilarating, top-spot securing performance. Neymar, carrying extraordinary expectations, bagged a brace as Brazil bounced into the knockout phase as Group A winner. And the rock that is Rafael Marquez, captaining Mexico at a fourth FIFA World Cup™, scored and starred as his country progressed.
Netherlands 2-0 Chile (Budweiser Man of the Match: Arjen Robben, NED)
Australia 0-3 Spain (Budweiser Man of the Match: David Villa, ESP)
Cameroon 1-4 Brazil (Budweiser Man of the Match: Neymar, BRA)
Croatia 1-3 Mexico (Budweiser Man of the Match: Rafael Marquez, MEX)
Villa bows out in extravagant style
The World Cup has proved a wonderful platform for David Villa. The crafty Asturian hit three goals in four games in Germany. Five in seven ensued in South Africa – including some gems – to help Spain rule the world. Villa, at 32 and having announced he would quit international football at the end of the tournament, came to Brazil as La Roja’s fourth-choice forward behind Diego Costa, Pedro and Fernando Torres. He didn’t see any action in his country’s first two outings. Back-to-back upset losses afforded him the chance to start against Australia. He responded in thrilling style, executing an outrageous flick to become the first player to score with his heal since 1982. It was all too much for Villa. After being replaced in the 56th minute, to a superb reception from the Spain and Australia fans and the neutrals, he sat, head in hands, sobbing, in realisation that his long love affair with La Roja was over.
Only two men in World Cup history have collected the ball inside their own half and, carried it upfield without relinquishing possession, and scored: ‘The Maradona of the Arabs’ and the Maradona. A hypsersonic Dutchman almost joined the club incepted by his former critic in Sao Paulo. Diego Maradona claimed the Netherlands should drop Arjen Robben a couple of years ago, but the 30-year-old attacker has been emphatically vindicating his country’s faith in him in Brazil. After 40 minutes, he almost netted his fourth and finest wonder goal of this World Cup. Picking the ball up 60 yards from goal, Robben hurtled up the field like a speed-skater, slaloming majestically as opponents cashed into one another in their helpless, hopeless attempts to halt his dart. Just as it seemed the Oranje No11 was set to join Diego Maradona and Saeed Al-Owairan in that exclusive club, Robben uncharacteristically scuffed wide from the edge of the box.
Thrills on wheels
The Brazilian players were on their way out for to warm up for a crucial contest. En route, one wheelchair-bound fan asked Thiago Silva for a photo – and got much more than he’d hoped for! Indeed the whole Brazil squad joined ecstatic youngster for a photo. They even shared a few laughs with him before hurrying off so Luiz Felipe Scolari wouldn’t catch them skiving!
A Mexican hero
Rafael Marquez is renowned for his infallible defensive play rather than for his prolificacy, but he doesn’t half have a habit of getting crucial goals. The former Monaco and Barcelona man broke the deadlock against Argentina in the Round of 16 at Germany 2006 and bagged a late equaliser against South Africa at the following World Cup. The legendary veteran repeated the feat in Recife, putting his country en route to victory and becoming the first Mexican to score in three World Cups. Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
18 years and 221 games since the Netherlands last started a game without a Van-something in their side, they repeated the trick. Louis van Gaal left Patrick van Aanholt, Gregory van der Wiel, Marco van Ginkel, Ricardo van Rhijn and Ricky van Wolfswinkel out of his final squad for Brazil 2014, while a calf injury ruled Rafael van der Vaart out. With Robin van Persie – the only Van-something in the Dutch party – suspended for the game against Chile, Daley Blind and Co emulated the team his father, Danny, lined up in against China PR in 1996.
Italy-Uruguay, 13:00, Estadio das Dunas, Natal
Costa Rica-England, 13:00, Mineirao, Belo Horizonte
Japan-Colombia, 16:00, Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba
Greece-Côte d'Ivoire, 17:00, Estadio Castelao, Fortaleza
Note: Fortaleza time is one hour ahead of Cuiaba time, meaning Japan-Colombia and Greece-Côte d'Ivoire will kick off simultaneously.
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Which player produced the best individual performance on Matchday 12?