World Cup roundup: CRO-MEX, CAM-BRA, AUS-ESP, NED-CHI (June 23)

Soccer fans wave the Mexican flag in Huntington Park, Calif., as they celebrate the team's 3-1 World Cup win against Croatia, Monday, June 23, 2014.  (Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
Soccer fans wave the Mexican flag in Huntington Park, Calif., as they celebrate the team's 3-1 World Cup win against Croatia, Monday, June 23, 2014. (Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
Soccer fans wave the Mexican flag in Huntington Park, Calif., as they celebrate the team's 3-1 World Cup win against Croatia. MCT PHOTO

Group A: Croatia 1, Mexico 3

RECIFE, Brazil — One of the first things Miguel Herrera did when he became Mexico's fourth coach in a year was call Rafael Marquez and ask the 35-year-old defender known as "the boss" to return to the national side as captain.

Today, the world saw why.

Márquez's pivotal goal from a header in the 72nd minute ignited a scoring burst, and Mexico surged into the World Cup's knockout stage for a sixth straight time with a 3-1 triumph over Croatia.

"I did not hesitate one minute after my talk with him to appoint him captain," Herrera said of Márquez, now in his fourth World Cup. "He's had many achievements in his career, personally, but he's also provided leadership to the team, that soundness, and that is why they call him the boss."

Márquez, Andrés Guardado and Javier "Chicharito" Hernández scored in a 10-minute span in the second half, dooming a talented Croatia side to elimination from the group stage.

The Croats had to win to advance and held the bulk of possession, but had trouble seriously threatening goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who kept out all efforts until an 87th-minute consolation goal from Ivan Perisic.

Mexico entered the game needing only a draw, but played aggressively and looked dangerous in attack even before breaking through. The result gave Mexico a second-place finish behind Brazil in Group A and set up a second-round meeting with Group B winner the Netherlands.

"We overcame the first hurdle," Miguel Herrera said, adding that the team would dine with their families in Recife later that night. "We're going to celebrate tonight, but tomorrow, we have to start thinking of our match with the Netherlands."

Márquez, who had scored in Germany in 2006 and South Africa four years ago, made it three straight World Cups with a goal by beating Croatia defender Vedran Corluka to head home Hector Herrera's corner.

"They wanted him to retire, and look at him," Guardado said. "He plays like he's 23."

Group A: Cameroon 1, Brazil 4

BRASILIA, Brazil — Neymar knew the responsibility was his. An increasingly anxious host nation was relying on him to ensure Brazil avoided the almost inconceivable prospect of going out in the group stage of a World Cup on soil.

The 22-year-old Barcelona striker delivered on the weighty expectations today, setting the Selecao on course to clinch its place in the knockout stage with two precision first-half goals in a 4-1 rout of Cameroon.

"I have the responsibility to go out there and help my teammates," said Neymar, the World Cup's leading scorer with four goals. "We all did well today and got the result that we needed."

Fred and Fernandinho added second-half goals to ensure top spot in Group A for Brazil, which will face South American rival Chile in the second round.

More important than the widely expected victory, though, was a performance that restored the confidence of fans after two disappointing matches.

"I liked how the team played," Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said. "There were some highs and lows, but in general, we improved a little bit more. We are progressing match after match, and that's important."

Brazil finished Group A with seven points after a 0-0 draw with Mexico and two wins. It ended with the same points as Mexico, but had a better goal difference.

Group B: Australia 0, Spain 3

CURITIBA, Brazil — David Villa marked his last appearance for Spain much like most of his previous ones — with a goal.

Villa opened the scoring with his record 59th goal as the 2010 World Cup champions beat Australia 3-0 to avoid finishing last in Group B.

The striker marked his lone appearance in Brazil by deftly guiding Juanfran Torres' cross home with the inside of his right heel after 36 minutes.

Villa was overcome by emotion after being replaced in the 57th, burying his head in his hands. Not to shield his face from the blazing afternoon sun, but to reflect on an international career in which he played a key role in Spain's consecutive European Championship victories and maiden World Cup triumph.

"I thought about everything [the team has] given me, every day I had the luck and privilege to be here," Villa said. "To play for the Spanish team, from the very first day, has always been a great pleasure."

Villa, 32, has been an instrumental figure in Spain's rise since helping the country win Euro 2008, proving to be a versatile striker with the ability to slide into Spain's possession-based, combination football with ease.

Villa surpassed Raul Gonzalez's former mark of 44 goals for Spain to claim the record mark, which he began chipping away at with his debut in 2005.

"It would be an honor for me to be surpassed by someone because I will always be a part of the story of this team," Villa said. "Obviously, it would be great for the team if another or others score more goals for the team."

Spain's veterans have been criticized for hanging on for one tournament too long — a shocking 5-1 loss to the Netherlands followed by a 2-0 defeat to Chile left the reigning champions without a chance of advancing to the knockout stages.

The international futures of captain Iker Casillas, Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso have all been under question, with Alonso saying Monday he would take the summer to consider his future.

While Fernando Torres also scored, Spain is yet to find a player like Villa to fit into its system with Diego Costa failing to make an impact in Brazil.

Villa suggested he would return if asked to by coach Vicente del Bosque, saying he wanted to play for Spain his "whole life."

"I've always said I'd love to play for the Spanish team until I turn 55, but I'm conscious that's impossible," said the former Barcelona and Valencia forward, who helped guide Atletico Madrid to its first Spanish league title in 18 years this season.

Group B: Netherlands 2, Chile 0

SAO PAULO — Two substitutes, two goals.

Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal can, it seems, do no wrong at this World Cup.

He sent on replacements Leroy Fer and Memphis Depay in the second half of the match, and they scored both goals in a 2-0 win that confirmed the Dutch as Group B winners with a maximum nine points.

"It is luck," Van Gaal himself said about his super substitutions. "Just luck."

But it was more than that. Fer, listed by FIFA as 6 feet 2 inches tall, scored with a header a minute after coming on as a substitute for the 5-foot-6-inch Wesley Sneijder.

"I know Leroy Fer is tall compared with our opponents," van Gaal said. "I know he can head the ball well."

Then there was Depay.

"We analyzed that Chile in the last 15 minutes gives away more room," van Gaal said. "If you have a creative player in at that moment, you have the chance to use that space."

Manchester United, which hired van Gaal to restore its fortunes after a disastrous season by the club's lofty standards, must be delighted even if it has to wait a bit longer for him to join them after the World Cup.

Chile, one of the most attacking and attractive teams at the World Cup, had no answer at the Itaquerao Stadium, especially not without midfielder Arturo Vidal who watched from the bench.

"I played the best team I had," said Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli.

Juventus star Vidal had knee surgery before the tournament and had a sore Achilles tendon but said a day before the match he felt fit and ready to play.

Both teams had already advanced to the second round, but Chile's first loss of the tournament consigned it to second place in Group B.

The Dutch now travel to Fortaleza to play the Group A runner-up in the Round of 16. Chile faces the Group A winner in Belo Horizonte.


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