Three cheers for Western Hemisphere teams at the World Cup, one for each that has gained admission to the knockout phase.
So far, the West has proved itself best. Brazil, Mexico and Chile moved forward Monday along with a geographical outlier, the Netherlands, as a pair of foursomes closed out play.
Brazil locked down Group A by polishing off Cameroon, 4-1. A concurrent match ended approvingly for Mexico, which needed at worst a tie and got better — a 3-1 victory over Croatia.
The first two matchups of the sweet 16 are set: Brazil-Chile, Netherlands-Mexico. Only Mexico holds a home-hemisphere advantage.
Brazil toyed for a half with winless Cameroon, which was buoyed in the 26th minute on a tying goal by Joel Matip. Nine minutes hence, Neymar resumed his campaign for Golden Boot by charging into the teeth of the Cameroon back line and hammering home his second goal of the match and an unequaled fourth of the tournament.
Coming out for the second half, the Brazilians, ahead 2-1, seemed bent on ending any doubts they would win. They took target practice at goalkeeper Charles Itandje, and a goal quickly happened off the head of Fred Fernandinho poured it on with another in the 84th minute on Brazil’s 19th shot.
Through much of the Mexico-Croatia match, the only cheers that rang out were in reaction to announcements of each Brazil goal at another stadium. Well over an hour elapsed with the score frozen at 0-0.
Then Mexico, which had logged a single goal at the Cup, uncorked three more within 11 minutes. Rafael Marquez, Andres Guardado (on a beautiful build-up) and substitute Javier Hernandez did the honors.
For the Brazilians in the crowd, it was becoming a case of be careful what you wish for. A fourth goal could have jumped Mexico in front of their team for the group title.
But Croatia broke through for a goal in the 87th minute, the first permitted by the Mexicans at the Cup, and the pecking order with Brazil on top was firmly in place.
This article was originally posted on Los Angeles Times