Just for a moment it looked like top spot was up for grabs. But only for a moment. A magical 70-minute display from Brazil's wonderboy set the tone for a goalfest in Brasilia, as a weak Cameroon side were sent packing from this World Cup without a whimper.
Neymar helped himself to goals in the first half either side of Joel Matip's surprise equaliser, first converting Luiz Gustavo's fine cross with an equally brilliant sidefoot finish, and then slotting home from inside the box after being given too much space.
Fred got the crowd off his back after half-time with a goal inside four minutes of the restart before, in the dying embers while Mexico had raced into a 3-0 lead over Croatia, Manchester City substitute Fernandinho made sure of a last 16 tussle against Chile in Belo Horizonte on Saturday.
Fifteen minutes in, Allan Nyom did the above to Neymar. Within two, his chucklesome stunt had been punished as his 'victim' opened the scoring.
Luiz Felipe Scolari's men sought openings via wide-men Neymar and Hulk early on, and found joy down the right in particular thanks to the space left behind by Cameroon's attacking left-back Henri Bedimo. Their goal, however, came down the left after Luiz Gustavo had robbed possession on the halfway line.
Cameroon also looked wide with good reason: their first-half balls into the box caused problems for Brazil, and proved the source of frustration as Matip equalised on 26 minutes.
It was a tale of two forwards for the hosts; their 22-year-old star can do no wrong having joined Rivaldo on 34 goals, sixth on Brazil's all-time list. He drifted inside effectively to usurp his much-maligned team-mate Fred, who struggled in the first half. Though he received only 8 passes compared to Neymar's 21, 2 were fine goalscoring opportunities he should have capitalised on.
Eventually he did just after the break, moments after stinging the palms of Charles Itandje. It came in off his nose and was possibly offside - not that he'll care - but could be crucial to the confidence of a striker for whom goals have not flowed in the last year.;
Brazil were convincing against their beleaguered African opponents, who'd managed to test Julio Cesar with just 1 of their 9 attempts on goal 10 minutes into the second half. Brazil, on the other hand, were ruthless: in 13 shots they'd netted 3 times without troubling the ballboys.
For Scolari's men it was all about hitting Cameroon on the break at any given opportunity. The Indomitable Lions had already proved their vulnerability to pace and inability to organise themselves quickly at the back, so it wasn't too surprising to see Brazil let them enjoy some possession in the second half. They did little with it, and made mistakes regularly.
In the end it was one of those blunders that ensured the Selecao confirmed their place atop the pile. Stephane Mbia was robbed in a dangerous area, and Oscar eventually played in Fernandinho who toepoked home the decisive goal. It was just reward for an eye-catching substitute's display from the Man City man, who will surely start the weekend's knockout clash.
Paulinho, who he replaced at half-time, completed just 10 passes in a quiet first half where Brazil's midfield was largely bypassed (Oscar managed only 13). Fernandinho took the initiative further forward and by full-time had completed 11 passes in the final third alone.
At the final whistle, the numbers stacked up: 0 of Brazil's 18 shots were sent off target, while just 1 of Cameroon's 12 attempts on goal - their equaliser - had troubled the hosts. Those Lions don't look so Indomitable.
Facts and figures
- Neymar scored the 100th goal of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil’s 100th game in World Cup finals history.
- Neymar has now scored 8 goals in his last 6 appearances for Brazil.
- Cameroon have conceded in their last 7 World Cup group matches.
- This was the first time in 12 World Cup matches Cameroon have conceded 2 goals in the first half (last time vs Russia in 1994).
- Brazil have now scored 3+ goals in 6 of the 7 World Cup matches they have played against African sides.
- Just 1 of the 12 shots attempted by Cameroon was on target; their goal.
- Brazil struck more shots on target than any other team in Group A (23); Cameroon the fewest (4).
- Brazil attempted the most passes in Group A (1220) while Cameroon recorded just 890; the fewest of the sides in the group.
- Brazil haven’t failed to top their opening World Cup group since the last tournament in South America (Argentina 1978).
- Brazil have lost just 2 of their last 20 World Cup matches (W16 D2).