RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil relied on its star Neymar for two early goals to beat Cameroon 4-1 Monday and reach the World Cup’s knockout stage for a South American showdown against Chile, a 2-0 loser to the Netherlands.
Winning Group B with its third straight victory made sure that the Dutch avoided the host so early in the tournament. Instead, the Netherlands will face Mexico, which beat Croatia 3-1 to advance alongside Brazil from Group A.
Spain beat Australia 3-0 in an inconsequential game between already eliminated teams, a victory providing a little balm on the disappointing defense of its title.
With free-flowing games and buckets full of goals the rule in this outstanding tournament, it took until the final minutes of the Group A games for Brazil to make sure it advanced as group leader on goal difference over Mexico.
“We are progressing match after match and that’s important,” Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said.
Both finished with seven points, with Croatia eliminated with three points, while Cameroon finished with three losses. Brazil finished first because it had a better goal differential than Mexico, plus 5 to plus 3.
The Netherlands was the first perfect team to advance, finishing ahead of Chile in Group B. Spain had three points with Monday’s win, and Australia had three losses.
Beyond the statistics, it again was Neymar who fully lived up to expectations of the 200 million football fans in Brazil with flair and lethal finishing, making the difference with first-half strikes against an African opponent that fought hard for one half before succumbing.
Neymar used an array of spin moves and delicate touches to get by players, delighting the crowd in Brasilia — including Britain’s Prince Harry.
“I have the responsibility,” said Neymar, and at 22, he is living up to it every single time he takes to the pitch. It seems half the Brazil jerseys from the beaches of Copacabana to gaucho towns in the interior carry his name, and with good reason.