TERESOPOLIS, Brazil (AP) — Brazil goes into its decisive Group A match against Cameroon on Monday with more at stake than a spot in the next round of the World Cup.
After struggling in its first two matches, Brazil is also looking to show that it can play well at its home tournament.
The hosts need a draw in Brasilia to move to the round of 16, and a victory will probably guarantee first place in the group. But it will also be important to put in a performance that regains the fans' confidence in the team.
"We have been improving and we can still get better," Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said. "We can advance to the next round and we can still improve the quality of our game."
Brazil came into the home tournament as one of the favorites after great performances in friendlies and especially after winning last year's warm-up event, the Confederations Cup. The team entered the World Cup having won 15 of its last 16 games.
But Brazil struggled in its opening match, despite beating Croatia 3-1 in Sao Paulo. Scolari's team conceded an early goal and escaped with victory after winning a controversial penalty kick when striker Fred fell inside the area following minimal contact from a defender. Brazil's third goal came in injury time.
Although Scolari and his players said the team improved in the match against Mexico, Brazil still struggled in a scoreless draw in the northeastern city of Fortaleza. Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa made four outstanding saves to stop Brazil's attack, but the Mexicans also had chances to score throughout the game.
"It's a difficult tournament and we have to try to improve match after match," Brazil left back Dani Alves said. "We already did better against Mexico and we also have to improve for the next match."
Brazil is expected to face less difficulty against Cameroon, which lost its first two matches and has no chance of advancing to the second round.
The Africans will also be without defensive midfielder Alex Song, who was red-carded against Croatia for elbowing Mario Mandzukic from behind, and it remains unclear if striker Samuel Eto'o, the team's best and most experienced player, will recover from a right knee injury. He missed the match against the Croats.
To make it worse, there's still debate over what will happen to the players who got into an altercation in injury time against Croatia. Benoit Assou-Ekotto head-butted teammate Benjamin Moukandjo in front of their own goal and the two briefly scuffled before the match ended.
However, Brazil's players are taking nothing for granted at this tournament.
"We know it's going to be difficult, no matter what," Brazil striker Bernard said. "We have to keep working hard to keep improving and winning matches."
Brazil and Mexico enter the final round atop Group A with four points each, but the hosts are ahead on goal difference. Croatia has three points and Cameroon has zero.
Scolari's team has four players going into the match with a yellow card, including key starters Neymar, Luiz Gustavo and captain Thiago Silva. Another yellow against Cameroon will keep them from playing in the round of 16, when Brazil will face either South American rival Chile or the Netherlands, its nemesis from the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.___
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