SAO PAULO: Neymar scored twice as Brazil thrashed Cameroon 4-1 to reach the World Cup knockout rounds just ahead of group rivals Mexico on Monday.
A thrilling finale to Group A saw the hosts surge past Cameroon in Brasilia while Mexico downed Croatia 3-1 in Recife. The Netherlands beat Chile 2-0 to take top spot in Group B.
Brazil finished top of their group on seven points, leading Mexico, also with seven, on goal difference.
Brazil will play Group B runners-up Chile in Belo Horizonte on Saturday while Mexico will face the Netherlands in Fortaleza on Sunday.
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said he was pleased his side had shown signs of improvement—but admitted he would have preferred to have avoided Chile.
“I feel good now that we have qualified and I am thinking about my team. I know that they are going to keep improving,” said Scolari.
Star striker Neymar opened the scoring in the 17th minute—the 100th goal of the tournament in Brazil’s 100th World Cup match—to set the hosts on their way.
A close-range effort by Came–roon’s Joel Matip jolted Brazil on 26 minutes before Neymar settled nerves again with his second of the match nine minutes later.
Brazil stretched their lead through Fred after the interval and looked to be cruising to first place.
But a flurry of three Mexico goals in 10 minutes from Rafael Marquez, Andres Guardado and Javier Hernandez against Croatia changed the complexion of the qualifying picture.
With Mexico rampant and leading 3-0, one more goal could have seen them pip Brazil to first place in Group A.
Panic was short-lived however, with substitute Fernandinho stroking home Brazil’s fourth to restore the hosts goal difference advantage.
A late consolation goal by Croatia’s Ivan Perisic snuffed out any chance of a remarkable turnaround by Mexico.
In Monday’s earlier games, the Netherlands ensured top spot in Group B—and a date with Mexico—by beating Chile 2-0 in Sao Paulo.
The victory gave the 2010 runners-up a 100 percent record after earlier wins against Spain and Australia.
The Netherlands, missing suspended captain Robin van Persie, finally broke through Chile’s defense on 77 minutes.
In the dying minutes, Arjen Robben burst clear down the left flank to stab home from close range.